Since the start of the lockdown, we have seen all the agencies in the city come together to make sure that most rough sleepers have been temporarily housed in hotels across the city so they can isolate. Whilst this has been an amazing effort and this is so positive for many of our friends, there are however a small group who have really struggled to cope with this. Sadly there is still a small group of people rough sleeping in Manchester, spending their days and nights on the streets.

The people who are still rough sleeping may have slipped through the net, refused the offer or have been in accommodation and couldn’t cope with the sudden change in circumstances so they have ended up back on the streets. These people are very vulnerable and have even less support available to them than usual, as every drop in centre in the city has drastically reduced the services it offers during lockdown. While weather in the day is warm at the moment the nights are still cold, especially for people sleeping on cardboard.

Talking to our friends on outreach this week, we heard about someone who had been in accommodation but his self-harming had got much worse, to the point where he could no longer cope. He left and returned to the streets where he felt safer. Others friends tell us about their anxiety and one friend in particular how he struggles to come inside and trust the project he is going to. The toll on mental health for our friends in this crisis is huge. Another friend told us of intimidation and the threat of violence whilst he is alone on the streets as they are so empty.

You may have seen that we have been operating a food van in conjunction with Feed My City and Greater Manchester Police to provide people who are rough sleeping with daily food. However  we soon realised that this was creating a crowd of people in the city centre who were in accommodation (some travelling from as far away as Bury and Rochdale), which was defeating the purpose of self isolating and not encouraging social distancing and of course risking their health and the health of people around them.

As a result of these issues at the food van, we took the decision not to continue and instead to do outreach in the city centre. This means wearing the appropriate PPE, social distancing, going out early in the morning with food, finding people who are rough sleeping, speaking to them, finding out their story. Our support team come with us so they can engage with our friends and help them find appropriate accommodation.

Neil, our Head of Operations, has been out on outreach this week and had this to say: “You get some really useful intelligence on what is happening during lockdown by meeting people where they are sleeping. We’ve had some great conversations; we’ve seen people we know and people we don’t know. We’ve met people who’ve been in hotels and people who haven’t; it’s really important for everyone involved that we are able to have these conversations to get the people’s honest opinions and feedback on the new situation we’ve found ourselves in: on average we have seen 12 people in this situation each day.”

“The main focus of the outreach is relationship and connection, we hope to get to the truth of the situations people find themselves in and try and connect them with the right accommodation offer or equally importantly find out why it has not worked in the past. We are taking out food with us as this is an important way to connect with our friends, this is a basic breakfast and lunch including a bacon sandwich, cereal bars, crisps, bottled drinks and hot drinks. In the end it’s all about the connections we can make, talking to people about support that’s available to them, that will help people and hopefully be the start of someone changing their life. We are going out to help people get off the streets. Already one friend who has been a long term rough sleeper made the decision to get a referral and come inside – we are overjoyed for him”

Street outreach is how Barnabus first began almost 30 years ago and we hope to continue this for the foreseeable future until circumstances change. We hope the positive conversations we are having will continue and we can help people who are rough sleeping get off the streets, especially during this time when they are so vulnerable to the Corona virus.