A 7 day diary highlighting the difficulties homeless rough sleepers face and an insight into the lives they live on the streets of Manchester.
By Mark Devlin
Homelessness is a big problem. Not just in Manchester, not just in the United Kingdom, but worldwide. In some countries it is totally unavoidable yet when you look at other places it should really make you wonder how it can happen in today’s society. The United Kingdom and Manchester are one of them ‘‘other’’ places where you see it and think: How can this be happening? Here? Today?
When I was 17 years old I became homeless as a result of a breakdown in the relationship with my family. I spent 6 months between the streets and sofa surfing at friends houses. There are a few experiences that stand out during that time…. Waking up covered from head to toe in frost, being woken by someone injecting drugs yards from where I slept and walking the streets all night in the snow until my feet were to swollen and numb to even take another step. At the time I think I was either very ignorant of the fact I was homeless or just didn’t realise it. It wasn’t until I arrived at the Mustard Tree 3 years later that I realised that I had actually been homeless. I was fortunate that I was able to build bridges with my family and get off the streets but for the majority of homeless people it is not that simple.
I think a lot of the general public assume people become homeless because they have alcohol or drug addictions and that through one way or another it is their own fault, but my opinion is that a lot of homeless people actually turn to drugs and alcohol after they end up on the streets either to pass the time of day or to forget about the painful and sometimes traumatic reasons that actually made them homeless in the first place. Those reasons could be anything from loss of employment and being unable to pay the rent/mortgage to family and marriage breakdowns. The most extreme reason I have heard for someone becoming homeless is a young man who was sexually abused as a child and found his home life so unbearable he ran away aged 14 and has been on the streets ever since (he is 35 now).
After spending 2 years working at Mustard Tree gaining a better understanding of homelessness, the reasons behind it, the services and support available and hearing the stories of some of the guys who I have been able to speak to I decided to check things out by becoming homeless again myself for 1 week. It wasn’t something I was comfortable doing. I knew it would bring back a lot of old memories in terms of the most difficult and upsetting times of my life. My time on the streets was something that I would never forget but it was a miserable and depressing part of my life that I didn’t like to think about to often so to go back there again…well for me I was completely stepping out of my comfort zone and I often questioned whether I would be able to do it. I knew this would be a different experience from the first time in the respect that I had never spent a full 7 days sleeping rough (3-4 a week at the most) and I very rarely went into the city centre (I had always stayed in my local area) but that was where I would be this time.
The idea was to spend 7 days sleeping rough in Manchester city centre. Getting by using only the services set up to help the homeless while at the same time studying how the guys on the street cope with the situations they find themselves in and how they are treated by the local authorities and the general public.
Here’s how it went…………………