Greater Manchester has nearly double the number of regular rough sleepers than official stats acknowledge – says the man charged with finding them homes.
Mike Wright, the region’s strategic lead for homelessness, said those official stats figures didn’t account for rough sleepers whose status fluctuates.
“We always knew the annual rough sleeper count was a blunt instrument,” he said.
“You may have someone who has been on the streets for 364 nights a year but found a bed that one night and they don’t count on the statistics – now we know that there are at least 500 people regularly rough sleeping in our region.”
Last year’s annual count of rough sleepers in the region found 278 people on the street – up 41% on 2016.
But more than 500 long-term homeless were referred by GPs, charities and council workers to a scheme which pledges to find permanent housing for the most entrenched – that is those with a combination of alcohol and substance misuse issues, mental health problems and criminal records.
A scheme started in December sees 270 properties offered by housing associations and private landlords for the three-year project part of a manifesto pledge by Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham to eradicate rough sleeping in the region by 2020.
Some seven months on, 109 of the 500 people referred have already moved into their new homes – many after spending years living on the streets – with 85 in housing association properties, 29 in supported accommodation and eight in private properties.
Last week, the government agreed to put in £829,000 on top of its initial £1.8m pledge to fund the scheme.
So far, most referrals fall into the 26-50 age range and 89% are men, according to the Greater Manchester combined authority (GMCA).
To the surprise of those in charge, no one has yet dropped out and ended up back sleeping rough.
By contrast, a similar scheme in London between 2012-2015 had a much higher failure rate.
Both projects found funding through a “social impact bond” with social investors offering upfront investment to receive returns on results achieved.
Wright acknowledges a challenge ahead in persuading each of the 500 to accept not just a home but “wraparound” support where there is a in-built inclination to mistrust authority.
As well as help with addiction and mental health issues, those accommodated are asked to set goals for what they want to achieve.
“That might be getting back into work or just finding something meaningful to do, others want to get a girlfriend or be considered responsible enough to have a pet,” said Wright.
“They are given help to renovate and furnish their new flats, plus £400 they can put towards achieving their goal.
“Some people use it to sign up for college courses, but expectations can be quite low. One person used it to buy a bicycle so that he could get fit and ride to job club appointments,” he said.