MP Rebecca Long-Bailey and City Mayor Paul Dennett took part in Salford’s annual homeless count - and were horrified at what they found. From a 19-year-old man sleeping rough in a park for more than three months - to another man slipping in and out of consciousness, barely covered by a blanket in the street, they said the exercise was ‘soul destroying’.
Town halls, by law, have to send out a team of volunteers walk the streets each year to count the number of rough sleepers. Politicians wouldn’t usually brave the cold, but Mayor Dennett and Ms Long Bailey said they needed to see the problem first hand - and insisted on going along to see the grim reality for themselves.
Council bosses accept it’s a poor way of gauging numbers, but say walking the streets is a good way of getting out to help people. The count merely provides a snapshot of homelessness, but isn’t nearly accurate enough. People can only actually be counted if they’re seen sleeping. Official figures state there were just 14 people sleeping rough in the city last year, much lower than town hall and housing chiefs estimate. This year’s count figure has not yet been published, though it is thought fewer people were counted than in 2015.
Around 50 people are currently living in just one temporary hostel in Salford - and dozens more in a church. Last year, 1,600 people presented themselves to the council as homeless.
City Mayor Dennett, who walked the streets with Ms Long-Bailey and the council’s housing chief Paul Longshaw, said homelessness is spiralling out of control across Greater Manchester, insisting it is important politicians ‘get out there and see the problem for themselves’. “This is about us trying to understand why people are homeless,” he said. “It’s an absolute disgrace. Why is this happening in today’s society?”
City Mayor Dennett has made tackling poverty and homelessness a priority after taking on Salford’s top job, vowing to build new council houses. He added: “It’s an imperfect system which relies heavily on circumstance. Though the numbers have technically fallen this year, we found many instances of makeshift shelters and sleeping areas made by rough sleepers.
“Everyone who works in housing is telling us that the number of rough sleepers is rising. “We’re seeing more and more working people and young people pushed into insecure living arrangements, and that often manifests itself in periods on the street. “Although the work which goes into the count each year is vital, the numbers here only scratch the surface of the real problem facing our society.”
Salford and Eccles MP Ms Long-Bailey, who said the counts should be regularly carried out, rather than once a year, said: “It’s freezing. I can’t even imagine how anybody could spend a couple of hours sat out in this, never mind a good chunk of their life. “It’s good we’re doing the count, but once a year isn’t enough. We have to report on this more regularly. “This is one of the world’s richest economies. This shouldn’t be happening. Things have to change.”