Lending a hand to Manchester’s homeless

Blog

Sam Swindells is an Account Executive based in our Manchester office. After graduating from the University of Manchester in Biotechnology, Sam joined Havas Lynx as part of the 2014 Graduate intake, starting his Lynx journey as a Medical Writer. As part of Havas Lynx’s volunteer day opportunities, Sam, along with five others, spent a day with Barnabus, a Christian Homeless Charity based in Manchester. The below provides us with an insight in to Sam’s day.

Alone, cold and afraid – this is the daily reality facing thousands of homeless people up and down the country and in the face of growing austerity and cuts to essential public services, the problem is only getting worse.

Homelessness in the UK is on the rise. In 2016, 4,134 people on average slept rough across England on any given night – a 16% increase compared to the previous year, and more than double the amount in 2010.[i] Life on the streets is incredibly tough and those unfortunate enough to be sleeping rough are at an increased risk of being assaulted or developing serious life-threatening infections. All this is compounded by startling rates of drug and alcohol abuse, placing immense pressure on a health service that is already close to breaking point.

A recent report by homeless charity Shelter identified Manchester as the North West’s top ‘homelessness hotspot’, with an estimated 2,000 people living on the streets or in temporary accommodation. Since 1991, local charity Barnabus has been offering support to the city’s homeless community through its drop-in centre, where individuals can receive a hot meal, take a shower and pick up new clothes. The centre relies on a small team of staff and around 70 volunteers who work tirelessly to provide a brief respite to Manchester’s rough sleepers every morning.

As part of Havas Lynx’s volunteer day opportunities, a team of 6 Lynx employees, including myself, recently went along to lend a hand at the centre, which is just a stone’s throw from our office on Princess Street. We were greeted by Yvonne Hope, Barnabus’ Operations and Resources Director, and Neil Cornthwaite, Manager at the Beacon drop-in centre, who introduced us to the kitchen staff and other volunteers. Split between the clothes bank, kitchen and the street outside, we spent the next few hours serving food, handing out new clothes and talking to those who rely so heavily on the service.

After a few conversations with some of the centre’s regulars, it became apparent that the topic on everybody’s lips was the former “legal high”, Spice. A highly potent synthetic cannabinoid, the drug has had a devastating effect on Manchester’s homeless community over the last few months. One volunteer tells me that between 90-95% of those sleeping rough in the city centre are addicted, and that it’s already claimed several lives due to overdosing. “It’s cheaper than anything else out there”, one visitor tells me, “I can buy a bag that will last me a couple of days for a fiver so people are starting to switch from heroin which’ll cost them much more”.

Neil explained anyone caught using Spice will be asked to leave the centre immediately, but that doesn’t stop one man lighting a joint containing the drug just metres from the entrance. Taking effect almost instantly, it leaves him in a totally catatonic state, collapsed along the edge of the building, his eyes glazed over, his head propped awkwardly on a rucksack. “Is he dead?” one man asks, “no, he’s still breathing I think”, says another. Someone calls an ambulance, but when it arrives, there’s nothing the paramedics can do to bring him around. Eventually, the man wakes up and stumbles away. Barnabus has helped to clothe and feed people like him, but it seems, worryingly, there’s little that can be done to curb this new frightening epidemic, or reverse the fortunes of Manchester’s homeless.

[i] https://www.crisis.org.uk/ending-homelessness/about-homelessness/