In August, the region’s leaders warned that “homelessness could return to the streets of Greater Manchester on a scale not seen since the 1930s”.
A ‘perfect storm’ of factors is coming together as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, they said.
The number of people claiming for unemployment in the region is up by 88 per cent, the government’s furlough scheme is due to end in October, and thousands more jobs are at risk as businesses struggle with the turmoil.
A temporary ban on evictions also ended last month meaning repossession orders can resume, although landlords are required to give tenants six months’ notice.
Hundreds of people were re-homed as part of the ‘Everyone In’ policy when lockdown first began, and hundreds more remain in temporary accommodation.
But political leaders and charities remain fearful about the upcoming winter.
The housing charity Shelter says an estimated 322,000 private renters have fallen into arrears since the pandemic started, putting them at risk of eviction.
And in recent weeks the Home Office has also begun evicting refugees refused asylum from emergency accommodation, even in areas such as Greater Manchester where additional local restrictions apply.
Whether the consequences of this ‘perfect storm’ are now starting to become evident on the streets is unclear.
Manchester Council bosses said this week they believe fewer people are sleeping rough in the city at the moment as a result of the Everyone In scheme.
The latest head count for September was 49, compared with 85 in the same month last year.
But charities have expressed concern that homeless people face the ‘double threat’ of the upcoming winter and accommodation that makes social distancing difficult.
The council says this year there will be more capacity for the homeless in Manchester to ensure everyone can stay in a single room before being moved on to temporary accommodation.
But there is no doubt that coronavirus will make life even more challenging for those without a permanent roof over their head in the coming months.
In recent weeks the M.E.N has heard a number of similar reports of rough sleepers breaking into blocks of flats in the city centre.
Residents describe being frightened and distressed by the sight of someone sleeping on a stairway, taking class A drugs or rummaging through bins.
They say security staff are too intimidated or unwilling to take action, and when they call police they are told it is a trespass matter that should be dealt with by the council.
The local authority is aware of the problem and says that staff are doing their best to try and engage with those accessing buildings and get them the help they need.
But frustrated residents say it is not enough.
They want to feel safe and secure in their own homes and cannot understand why reporting an intruder is not something that would require police attention.
It is a desperately sad situation for all concerned – so what can be done?
‘You go in the bin room and you’d never know if somebody was there’
Residents in at least four buildings in the Ancoats area described the same problem recently; people from the street gaining access to communal areas, either by tailgating or simply barging their way in.
All have expressed compassion and sympathy for those who may well be struggling with mental health and addiction problems, as well as wanting a warm, dry place to spend the night.
But residents say they are suffering a wide range of criminal and anti-social behaviour as a result, from car break-ins and fraud, to people taking hard drugs on stairways or defecating in communal areas.
“You go in the bin room, turn the lights on, and you’d never know if somebody was there,” said one resident at Eastbank Tower, a block of apartments just off Great Ancoats Street.
“I know a lot of people were worried about that.
“They would get into our underground car park and use it for drugs.”
“People come into Advent Way and use it as a cut-through, they use the area to take drugs, have arguments.
“That’s what gets people upset, especially during lockdown when people have been at home more.
“There was a homeless couple in the car park that were having parties and lighting fires, they were lighting a bonfire every night.
“We pointed out that we have the ACM cladding [linked to the Grenfell fire], we stressed that there’s an unregulated fire next to the building.
“The council said they would come out, but the times of day they come down, they’re not there.
“It’s at night, I get that they don’t work then, but there’s nobody else to come. “
The resident, who asked not to be named, has lived in Eastbank Tower for four years and says although crime and anti-social behaviour has always been an issue, it seems to have got worse recently.
“You don’t know whether it’s just because people are being more vocal about it,” he said.
“Particularly this year, cars being burnt out, windows smashed seems to be a weekly occurrence.
“They’re not taking things, it just seems to be vandalism. It’s just so frustrating – it’s happening again, and again, and again.”
“We had [homeless people sleeping in the building] quite a few times.
“They have managed to get in, then they’re on the stairwell, taking drugs or in the bin room, I think they were sleeping there.
“Then we’d have a problem with human waste.”
‘I’ve come across people in communal areas, banging on doors’
Corin Jackson owns a number of apartments in the city centre which he rents out through companies such as AirBnb.
He says the biggest problem with rough sleepers is at Vulcan Mills on Pollard Street by the New Islington tram stop.
“I’ve come across people in communal areas, banging on residents’ doors,” he said.
“From a business perspective it’s not great, if you get clients staying and there’s either a person taking drugs, of the remnants of people taking class A drugs, needles in the corridor, that kind of thing.
“It’s happening daily, there’s a concierge but he’s had knives pulled on him.
“The management company don’t do anything – they deny that it’s even possible for someone to get in.
“We’ve seen [rough sleepers] use their shoulder to break through the door.
“I first moved into Vulcan Mills in 2014 and it seems like it’s got worse.
“When I first moved in it was car break-ins in the car park [that was the problem], people going through bins.
“Lots of residents said they were victims of fraud.
“It happened to me – someone tried to impersonate me and run money through a betting website.
“Obviously, I can’t say for definite that it was related.
“I had my car broken into and an Apple mac stolen.
“I’m not aware as I probably once was, but from the reporting from other residents I would say it has increased and is getting worse.”
‘we’ve got two shootings and a stabbing, you’re way down the list mate’
Both Corin and the Eastbank Tower resident say they have rang police several times to report people in their buildings.
Both described a similar response from call handlers.
“Police aren’t interested,” said Corin.
“They said it’s not within their remit – I think the exact words were ‘we’ve got two shootings and a stabbing, you’re way down the list mate’.
“That was two or three months ago.”
The Eastbank Tower resident said: “I would say no, [there isn’t a relationship with police], they seem quite disengaged.
“We think they’re not doing very much, they probably think we complain too much.
“We’re at a stage where they’re doing nothing when we make a report.
“During lockdown we would always see police cars driving up and down Great Ancoats Street but when we dial 101 no one can attend.
“I feel like they let the small crimes slide, all that does is encourage the bigger ones to happen, and happen more frequently.
“They say they don’t deal with trespass any more.
“It sends out a message and encourages that kind of behaviour, if they’re not going to turf people out.
“If someone was in a house they would respond – because we’re in shared building we’re not as important.”
Legal experts say it is not as simple as that.
While police have powers of arrest, it is discretionary and removing people from a building is more likely to require a court order.
Barrister Philip Byrne, of St John’s Buildings, said there have been instances of evictions orders being served on people refusing to leave occupied residential buildings in Manchester.
The property owner could then obtain an injunction to prevent them coming back.
But he urged caution to anyone considering it.
“I would encourage anyone in that position to get advice from a specialist property lawyer,” he said.
“The courts are going to want to see that someone has been given notice.
“There are legal powers but it needs to be approached with great care.
“You could be in a situation where you get things more wrong than right.”
‘We want to make the city centre as safe as possible’
Homeless people have been occupying shared buildings in Manchester city centre for many years.
In 2017, the M.E.N reported on complaints from residents at Granby Row near the Gay Village that people were sleeping or taking drugs in basements and stairwells.
At that point, locks were changed, police stepped up patrols and said they were looking at CCTV to see if any crimes had been committed.
It’s fair to say policing of rough sleepers in Manchester city centre has evolved since then.
Greater Manchester Police now works with the council and a range of other partners including the NHS, drug and alcohol services and the Department for Work and Pensions on an innovative project that aims to help people rather than prosecute them.
Officers can refer people they find begging or committing other types of anti-social behaviour to the Street Engagement Hub, a building where they can get access to virtually every service they might need in one place.
The project began last November as a pilot and has proven a huge success.
Inspector Jon Shilvock said: “We are aware of the issues raised by residents in Ancoats, and I would like to reassure our local communities that we continue to work with our partners to help keep everyone safe, in what is a very challenging time.
“A multi-partner approach is in place to ensure a range of support is available, and we continue to adapt our strategies based on intelligence we receive, which then aligns the collective work undertaken across the city.
“My team has also been involved in the Street Engagement Hub; a multi-partner service which addresses many different needs under one roof, and has proven a high effective resource.
“The involvement from so many partners is invaluable, in helping with underlying issues, which are often the main barriers to support, including addiction, mental health, finances and accommodation.
“We want to make the city centre as safe as possible, helping reduce associated anti-social behaviours, help safeguard some of the most vulnerable people and reduce the risk of exploitation. We will continue to work closely with our partners, and address any areas of concern.
“I would encourage residents to be extra vigilant when entering buildings, only letting known people in, and to always ensure communal doors are securely closed.
“We appreciate the understanding shown by residents with regards to this matter and would encourage them to call us if they feel threatened, or someone is at risk of harm.”
Manchester Council is also aware of the problem and it is understood the authority is working with property management companies to advise them on how to handle people entering their properties and where to report it.
Councillor Luthfur Rahman, Lead Member for Homelessness for Manchester City Council, said: “We know that sleeping rough can be one of the most awful experiences a person has to go through and as a result, many will try to find shelter in any place they can.
“Because of this there have been some instances where people have found their way into private accommodation in Ancoats.
“We treat any reports we receive with sensitivity as in many cases a person sleeping rough might be dealing with a host of complex issues which need to be addressed.
“A partnership approach is taken when resolving any issues with residents, bringing in staff from our Outreach team, Anti Social Behaviour team, as well as the building’s management and Greater Manchester Police.
“The priority will always be engaging with people sleeping rough, and trying to get them the support they need.
“It is encouraging to see that residents are sympathetic to the needs of people who are homeless and we would thank them for the understanding they are showing.
“However, they do have a right to safety and security in their homes. This year we have recruited two new support officers whose role it is to engage with residents and businesses who have reported issues to the Council and also an additional social worker to work with our outreach teams.
“Another partnership project, the Street Engagement Hub, has also been deployed to Ancoats to work with residents and the homeless community there in an attempt to support people into stable accommodation and away from a life on the streets.
“Homelessness is an extremely complex issue but I want to reassure residents that we are doing everything in our power to create lasting and positive change in our neighbourhoods so that no one has to sleep rough.”
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‘Can we find a way to make them not want to get in?’
There is no easy answer to homelessness in Manchester city centre, and some of the problematic behaviour that is associated with it.
The Mayor Andy Burnham pledged to end rough sleeping in the city region by 2020.
His scheme ‘A Bed Every Night’, and the efforts of all Greater Manchester’s authorities to get people off the streets and into accommodation at the start of the pandemic, has made a big difference.
But the experience of people living in Ancoats suggests there is still a lot to do – just as the country’s economic outlook is starting to look bleak.
“It’s a vicious circle,” said Corin.
“The only way to help these people is not to kick them back out, we need to find a way to improve their circumstances.
“I can’t see it resolving itself any other way.
“Can we, as a collective, find a way – not to keep kicking them out – a way to make them not want to get in?”
Corin says he tries to contribute towards a solution by donating £9 of every booking at his apartments to Hotels That Help, a company that gives financial support to local homelessness charities.
“I don’t think anyone could live in Manchester and not realise it’s a problem [homelessness],” said the Eastbank Tower resident.
“But we’re not in the jobs to solve it are we?
“We can only report on it as we find it.
“There’s lots and lots of issues around it, but ultimately we want to feel safe and secure in our homes. It’s as simple as that.”
The M.E.N. has approached the management companies of Vulcan Mills and Eastbank Tower for comment.