Greater Manchester’s mayor says ‘the tide is turning’ as new figures show the first significant reduction in the number of rough sleepers for eight years.
Government statistics released on Thursday reflecting a ‘snapshot’ of the picture across the city region show a drop or parity in all but two districts.
Andy Burnham – who has pledged to end rough sleeping across Greater Manchester by 2020 – said a flagship scheme to provide accommodation is having an impact and the figures may have fallen even further.
“I am confident that for the first time in a long time, real progress is being made. We are helping people turn their lives around and in many cases saving them,” the mayor said.
The figures – taken on the night of the national rough sleeper count in November – show increases in Manchester and Bolton but a 19 percent decrease overall.
Combined authority bosses have emphasised that as the headcount is taken on one night, it is generally accepted that the figures will be higher.
But they say it gives the best indication of the current situation on the streets of the conurbation and the reduction is supported by local counts.
A total of 229 rough sleepers were recorded in the official figures, compared with 278 the previous year.
Mr Burnham called on the government to ‘recognise the success of our strategy and adopt it nationwide’.
He said: “These figures demonstrate that the tide is turning.
“The fact that more than 200 people are still sleeping rough in our city-region in this day and age is completely unacceptable and there is still much work to do.
“This is a humanitarian crisis, not of our own making, and there is no easy solution.”
The mayor’s A Bed Every Night (ABEN) campaign has helped more than 1,200 people into supported accommodation since its launch in November, and around 360 of those have been found places to live, the combined authority has said.
The scheme is being relied upon to deliver the election pledge to end rough sleeping and has seen facilities opened across the city-region.
However, the ambitious project has been hit with a setback in recent weeks as one of its 24-hour hubs on the edge of Manchester city centre was forced to close permanently because of electrical problems.
Mr Burnham said it has so far surpassed expectations, though, and is ‘the right thing to do both morally and economically’.
“This winter, through ABEN, we are the only city-region in the UK working to provide beds across all our boroughs to meet demand for accommodation and support.
“We think that since the official count the number of people on our streets has dropped still further,” Mr Burnham added.
In Manchester, the figure on the night of the official headcount was 123, compared with 94 the previous year.
But city council bosses have said their own figures show more people are accessing the support.
Coun Sue Murphy, the city’s lead homelessness, said: “There is a greater awareness and visibility of rough sleeping in Manchester so we are not surprised that the official figure has gone up.
“This tallies with our own ongoing data which shows that more people are on the streets than ever before.
“The headcount is a snapshot on one night only. However, we know that the figure for rough sleeping rarely remains static and our own most recent figure in January tells us that 65 people were on the streets which shows that more people are taking up the offers of temporary accommodation and support available to them.”
In Salford, the figures fell from 49 to 17, with city mayor Paul Dennett citing the housing crisis and the impact of welfare reforms among the root causes of the outlook across GM.
He praised the ‘invaluable’ partnership work the combined authority has undertaken with charities, churches and community organisations across the region.
“The latest figures show that we’re making some progress but there is still so much to do to fix the broken system in 21st century Britain,” he said.
The national rough sleeper count takes place every year on one night in November, with local authorities across the country submitting data to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) which is then independently verified.