"The bailiffs been four times, and we're now waiting for them to come back and throw us in the street with no thought given..."
At 8:30am today, new Greater Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham, had a press call and walkabout, meeting homeless people and launching his Mayor's Homelessness Fund, to which he will donate 15% of his £110,000 a year wage, while asking local people and businesses to contribute*.
"Greater Manchester has been fortunate enough to witness some of the fastest economic growth nationally over the past decade, but alongside this we have seen a growing inequality which damages us all" said Andy Burnham
"Whilst the city centre's skyline is filled with cranes, our streets should not be crowded with people who have no roof over their head" he added "Rough sleeping and homelessness are not inevitable consequences of a 21st Century economy. We all have a duty to ensure no one is forced to spend a night on the streets and every Greater Mancunian has a stable place to call home
"That is why I have made ending rough sleeping across the city region by 2020 one of my top Mayoral priorities" he explained "Within three years, and if we can achieve it earlier, no one should be forced to spend a night on the streets. I will also work with all relevant organisations to develop a plan to reduce all forms of homelessness in Greater Manchester."
The Fund, which is already hitting almost £5,000 of public donations, will support things like 'building specialised supported accommodation for young people with access to education, volunteering and employment opportunities' ...'Expanding mental health and rehabilitation programmes across Greater Manchester, including re-building community mental health support, recovery-led accommodation and arts programmes'...and 'Bringing empty properties back in to use for people threatened with becoming homeless'...
Activists against homelessness have currently been doing the latter for 19 weeks at the old Cornerhouse building a few hundred yards up the road from Andy Burnham's new office on Oxford Street.
"This building was empty for two years before we occupied it, and there are no immediate plans for it" says Chris Blaine, one of the squatters "In 2019, along with the MMU building over the road, it's going to be turned into luxury apartments, hotels and gastro pubs; the normal gentrification...
"We're saying that we've already shown that this building can provide a very adequate and safe home" he adds "We've also shown that the wider community is up for getting involved in a very big and very hands on way to heighten the awareness of people suffering from homelessness at the moment...."
The current group of squatters originally hooked up with the Loose Space collective to turn the derelict building into a gallery, workshop and event space, as well as a place for homeless people (see here). But while Loose Space has left, the campaigning activists are still there, awaiting the bailiffs...
Chris is unimpressed with the Mayoral Fund that will work on a grant basis to 'support frontline projects which can demonstrate they are supporting the Mayor's objective to end rough sleeping and reduce homelessness...'
"15% of his salary is hardly a year's rent for a handful of homeless people, and I would say to Andy Burnham, 'Sack your Mayoral Fund because it isn't going to make any difference at all'" he explains "And his new Deputy, Richard Leese, has had twenty years to prove that he cares, and he's failed.
"Burnham's just rolled up with the old boys to carry on what the old boys were doing, and we're going to see more towers, more homeless and more destitution all in the name of gentrification and profit" Chris insists "He's come nowhere near here but I'd love him to come and talk because I've got loads of ideas that involve more than going out at 8:30am getting photo opportunities..."
Chris rails against what he calls the "homeless industry", with landlords and hostels making vast profits from people's misery. Instead, he subscribes to the Housing First philosophy, where the homeless are given housing, first, supported if needed, as a first step to getting back on track. Housing First has an 85% success rate in places like Canada and America where it has been implemented
"Greater Manchester has a dire need for new affordable, economical, social housing and there's an organisation called Inspiring Change that is working with a couple of groups in Greater Manchester to do tests on the Housing First model" says Chris "They are running a pilot for twelve people and want to expand it but don't have the funding.
"So we're putting it to Network Rail that, 'If you value your community and truly believe in helping your neighbour, get your hand in your pocket and back Inspiring Change – fund up to six people to go on the programme'" he says "If they agree to that, the group that is currently here in the Cornerhouse will vacate the premises and not return."
In the meantime, the activists are holding out...
"The bailiffs have been four times, and we're now waiting for them to come back and throw us in the street, with no thought given..." says Chris, who ends with another message for Andy Burnham...
"Your office is just down the road from here, why don't you come here and have an open discussion; come and tell us the truth about what your plans are for the next three years...What we want to see is real support and real change..."
For further details on Inspiring Change – click here
*For further details on The Greater Manchester Mayor's Homelessness Fund – click here
See also previous Salford Star articles...
Andy Burnham's Housing Hustings – click here
'Disappointment' with Richard Leese Appointment – click here
Update: 12th May: Andy Burnham tells Salford Star he'd be 'happy' to talk to Cornerhouse activists - see here