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Why Just Opening Empty Buildings Isn't The Answer To Homelessness - In Tameside Or Anywhere Else

I keep seeing posts on local groups saying that the council should open the empty buildings and put the homeless in there - and I know it sounds like an easy solution, but there are so many reasons why it really isn't.

First and foremost I need to say again that Tameside is leading the way right now - tonight over 30 of our local rough sleepers are accessing the ABEN provision and today another man who has been doing that has got his keys to a permanent flat - because it's being run by people with so much experience in dealing with the homeless guys here in Tameside and being co-ordinated by our incredible Impact team along with the Tameside Outreach Team, we are genuinely seeing real results...the first being that anyone who is rough sleeping at least has an option every night and not just when we hit freezing point and SWEP kicks in. The voluntary workers here are all pitching in as well - We Shall Overcome, Infinity Initiatives, Sandwich Angels.....the list really does go on.

Simply opening empty buildings and sticking homeless people in there is a bad option for a lot of reasons. First of all, quite often empty buildings are empty for good reason - they might not be safe, they may not have utilities, they may not be fit for the purpose of housing people safely.

Even if they are - a lot of our homeless community have complex needs, whether mental or physical health issues, addiction issues or a combination of them all. Some of these guys are incredibly vulnerable and in the last few weeks, a couple of homeless men have preyed on the weaker ones resulting in them being threatened, assaulted and robbed......hence the reason for security to ensure the safety of anyone accessing emergency shelters.

In one B&B here in Ashton that regularly housed the homeless before being stopped, there was a stabbing and a number of assaults. That's what happens when you flag somewhere up as being a place that vulnerable people are staying without support. One young man was robbed while having a grand mal seizure and turned up on my doorstep barefoot, his trainers stolen from his feet while lying helpless and bleeding on the floor......

Then there is the issue of drug use - if you throw a load of homeless people into an empty building together, at least some of them will be substance users - I have had to help to clear two residential flats that were used in this way and in the latest we filled two and a half large sin bins with used needles and paraphernalia. That was as a result of about six or seven men using it for just a few weeks after the drove the tenant to abandon it to them......can you even begin to imagine having to sleep somewhere surrounded by that, especially if you were homeless and afraid and not using anything yourself? That's without starting to worry about anyone in there overdosing or the risk of blood borne diseases.....Shelters need first aid provision at the very least.

Increasingly over recent years we have seen more and more people becoming homeless for so many reasons - largely due to Austerity - whether that is loss of jobs leading to debt and eviction, benefits being capped and Universal Credit being rolled out, the cut of support services in our communities.

The ways to fall through the cracks increase as the cracks become chasms....I've had people homeless through leases terminated as private landlords sell up, so many men homeless due to relationships breaking down, people with mental health issues losing support networks that helped them maintain tenancies, bereavement, domestic abuse, mental breakdowns, care leavers with no family support......that list also goes on - and on - and on.....

Many of these people are bewildered, frightened and have fallen foul of a system which is not person centred - the protocols and policies set down by our government mean that you can be "intentionally homeless" very easily and with no idea that would happen.

Opening an empty building and lumping them all together is inhumane, unfair and downright dangerous - and the ones who have the addiction issues, some gained AFTER they ended up out there - they have little or no chance of ever achieving a recovery if they are just stuck together with no support to stop those addictions spiralling.

The alternative to "opening empty buildings and putting them in there" is to do what we are doing and extend it - keep the ABEN provision beyond the winter and let’s keep working together to give them safe shelter at night and access to support and advice through the days.....let's keep them fed and offer a helping hand and lets never, ever forget that they are not "the homeless problem" - they are homeless PEOPLE.

That for what it's worth is my two-pennyworth - and I'm going to keep fighting to help them as individuals......


Pauline has been helping the homeless in Tameside for six years, and is part of the countrywide We Shall Overcome (WSO) movement. Anyone wanting to help or get involved can get in touch at the Station Hotel, Warrington St, Ashton, where she is the landlady.

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