The power of the crowd

This week, Vincent Kompany came on board with Andy B’s push for a bed every night.  Even if you’re not into football (or worse, a Red), that is a big deal.

Vincent Kompany has nearly 3 million twitter followers and he commands respect.  He is eloquent, passionate and devoted to Manchester.  The reaction on social media looked like it might trigger the unstoppable wave that is the power of the crowd, as people who hadn’t previously got behind the effort, took notice.

There are 3 fundraising events planned over the coming year  No idea what sort of money that will raise, but equally important is the profile and the people he will bring with him.  Including, I hope, that elusive ‘crowd’.

We’ve seen the power of the crowd in Manchester, after the arena bombing, but we haven’t reached terminal velocity yet with our homelessness campaign.

Vincent Kompany’s campaign is called Tackle4Mcr.  Great, another twitter handle, another hashtag.  After a couple of days the Twitter account has less followers than me unfortunately, but football is a game of 2 halves etc etc.  Be patient, Pete, be patient.

Much of the debate round solving homelessness revolves around funding, or lack of it.  Today, I spent my first day shadowing a Shelter case worker, and was reminded that throwing money at the problem is not the be all and end all – homelessness is a community responsibility.  We spent time with 2 men.  The case worker has just enabled them to move into their own flats and we helped with the paperwork and organisation around utilities, Universal Credit, rent, furnishings and the like.  I hope we also shared some simple humanity with people who bloody well need it.  The attention to detail and the the simple love the case worker showed were so heartening.  I was apprehensive about my day, but came away buzzing about what can be done.  Relationships are just as important as funding.

We were in Ashton-under-Lyne and used The Station pub as a makeshift office and meeting point.  Read this to know what a community response is, and weep.


What’s in a name?

When it comes to finding an inspiring model for tackling homelessness, I’m a one trick pony. Social Bite.  I watch their progress with a mixture of admiration and envy.  I’m sure it doesn’t all run smoothly.  In this TED talk  co-founder (and daughter of my mate!) Alice Thompson fesses up to the hard graft, but as far as the general public of Scotland is concerned they are on a mission, they are succeeding and they make it ’look’ easy.   

Look at the front page of their website.  Tweet-sized definitions.  Not only is it easy to understand, but they seem to be doing the whole bloody thing in the homelessness challenge, from feeding to housing to rehabilitating to employing.  And they have the best PR.

I’d be the first to say PR is shallow. You need substance behind the facade.  If you’ve got that, then the PR is beautiful.  Celebrity endorsement and frikkin’ awesome initiatives = huge public support.  In their last fundraising event (Sleep Out 2017) they raised 4 million quid!  And worse than that, one of the performers on the night was our own Liam Gallagher.  Hang on, what about us in your home town mate?

And then there’s the name.  Social Bite.  It sounds like a band that is going to save the world.   In the public’s perception, it is a good cause they understand and will get behind, in an era when we are battered by organisations vying for attention.

There is great work going on in Manchester and has been for years, given extra impetus by the tireless efforts of Andy Burham and the many organisations at the sharp end of homelessness.  There is a huge amount of goodwill.  But (I feel) we have yet to get the power of the crowd behind us.

Street Support is Manchester’s online hub for organisations.  An amazing aggregator that lists 403 services, covering many different aspects of homelessness, but do I (a typical Manc bloke) know the main organisation leading the task?  No, I don’t.  Is it Coalition of Relief? Is it Greater Manchester Homeless Action Network?  I understand that different organisations tackle different aspects and areas, but are we too many?  Would we be more successful (in garnering public support at least) if one name stood out?  You might have seen ads round town for Big Change Manchester.  Great, a movement. Google it.  It takes you back to the Street Support website. Drill deeper and it is essentially a fundraiser.  And the hashtag #BigChangeMcr it’s getting a handful of tweets a week.  Give us your money and we will do stuff with it.  I refer you back to Social Bite.  When we give money we want to see the connection between us and them, it helps us believe we are part of the movement.

That sounds like a lot of criticism. It is not. I recognise and respect the fantastic work to end homelessness in our city. It is merely an observation (from a punter) of the public face of our homelessness challenge.


First couple of shifts done for The Brick, training in the diary for Shelter.  Both of these organisations are slick, despite the challenges, despite the new target of a bed every night  , processes and procedures are in place that don’t get in the way of the big picture and getting the job done.  And I’m conscious that us amateurs (aka volunteers) are there to facilitate, not hinder.


My own target is to help folks do things for themselves, not do things for them or give out free stuff.  Getting to know people at these 2 places is inevitably a gradual process, gaining trust, finding my place, adding value, to both the clients and the professionals. Overwhelmingly, there is a strong smell of resilience, in the professionals who plug away at addressing the problems and in the clients who (as you get to know them) face uphill battles that I can barely comprehend.  Yet there is a definite positive vibe, no hint that anyone will accept failure, no suggestion that we are banging our heads against a wall and won’t see every individual make progress.  I’ve seen some criticism that #abedeverynight is a distraction from Housing First.  The clever thing about #abedeverynight this winter is that it’s a stepping stone to Housing First, not a hindrance.

Human nature

You’re ambling along and someone in front of you falls over.  You instinctively help them up.  It’s an involuntary response.

With homelessness, we are doing a lot of involuntary response here in Manchester, but too much of it doesn’t tackle why the individual fell over in the first place, we (me included) have been too quick to make that initial, emergency help and not go any further.

We have been quick to respond to the homelessness crisis with soup runs, donations, meals and giving out free stuff.  All of that is essential and valuable.  We have to do the next bit as well; to help people to regain their independence.  You know, if you give a man a fish you feed him for a day, if you teach him to fish, you feed him for a lifetime. I just thought of that, or maybe it’s been around a while.

When I hear those words “the route out of poverty is work” I think of the many folks I know who demonstrate how ludicrous and naive that policy is.  You can’t function in society until you find good health and self confidence.  An individual needs help with this, it’s frikkin’ tough to do it on your own.  Imagine all the misfortune, bereavement, ill health, relationship breakdowns and financial difficulties you have experienced in your life.  Now put them all together, at the same time, and ask yourself if you could weather that storm.

There is no blanket solution; each individual needs unique support, which is why the mentoring scheme being rolled out in Manchester now is so vital.  The official title is Entrenched Rough Sleepers Service.  That’s what I’ve signed up for.  It helps to have lived experience of homelessness and mental health problems and substance abuse. I’m going to find it tough.   Each client has a (professional) support worker, us volunteers are there as extras.  Once you’ve given out free stuff for a while, you know that the next step is about tackling social isolation, befriending, encouraging, building confidence, and bringing folks back into our community.

The Volunteering Party

It does feel a bit of a party at times.  In spite of the human challenges of the people you are working with, humour is never far away.

I was late to this particular party, gone 50.  When I meet the youngsters (anyone under 30, tbh) who are volunteering I’m hugely impressed.  What was I doing at their age?  Well, I struggle to remember that far back.  Looking after number 1 probably.

On my divorce papers it reads “during the course of the marriage, the respondent freely gave his time to charitable causes”. That’s unreasonable behaviour, folks.  Better rid of her, don’t you think?

There are many self-help mantras.  Here’s one.  The Great Dream.


Top of the list, is ‘do things for others’.  Actually, we inevitably do things for ourselves.  Doing things for others is something that helps us to be part of our community, to face up to social responsibility. And to feel good about ourselves.  I volunteer because it’s good for me.


A bed every night

In the midst of the summer holiday, a big theatre space at Salford Uni was packed for abeds caring and sharing meeting of some of the Manchester agencies tackling homelessness.  In fact I struggled to get a ticket for the event, so popular it was.  Andy Burnham kicked things off and kept it simple. A light-bulb moment for me.  Our target was to get a bed for every rough sleeper throughout winter, from October to March.  Currently, we aim to provide a bed when the temperature drops to 0º C, but as I heard people pointing out, whether it’s 0º or 4º, it’s frikkin’ cold.  Not only is this good compassion for those folks we are trying to help all year round, it’s a way to get to know rough sleepers, to gain their confidence, to introduce them to support services and (kerching) help them to move up and on.  This was an idea from one of the faith groups who are hugely active in Manchester social justice – respect to them.  I think the SIB (Social Impact Bond) is funding this, but tbh, the structure and names of the cunning plan is a bit confusing for an amateur, looking in.

I can’t remember much of the rest of the meeting.  There were certainly examples of great work going on. That simple idea rocked around my head. One of those ‘it’s so obvious, how come nobody thought of it’ ideas.  A stepping stone to achieving the goal of ending rough sleeping (which we’ll never do, but , hey, there’s nothing wrong with aiming high).

So I kept shouting, ‘what can us volunteers do to support this’.  I was shouting in my head, ‘cos at these events I’ve learned to keep my gob shut, being an amateur surrounded by professionals.  Twitter came up with the answer for me (don’t it always?).  Volunteer with Shelter and The Brick,   2 of the organisations getting stuck into this winter’s challenge.

So I signed up and I hope to do my bit.  I’ll fess up on here, in the coming weeks.  I expect to find it challenging.