As the homelessness crisis deepens every year with an estimated 5,564 people sleeping on the streets of Greater Manchester, the charity Emmaus is working to fight the social scandal across the metropolitan boroughs. With three locations in the region – Bolton, Salford, and Mossley – the organisation is bringing post-war spirit to support the homeless, rebuild lives, and most importantly, prevent people from falling into such a desperate situation.

Their mission is clear: “To work together to overcome homelessness and social exclusion while using our voice to achieve social change.”

Emmaus has been active in the UK since the early 90s, but was founded in 1949 by Abbe Pierre to tackle the devastation and huge homeless population France had as it still suffered after the war. Their primary aim of keeping people free from destitution is a preventative strategy with wide-ranging national benefits.

They explain how by reducing and eventually eradicating the problem, the positives are twofold – individuals never having to face homelessness and the government seeing vast public spending savings:

“Keeping people out of hospital, and helping them to be safe and well, saved the Department of Heath £1,478,506 for NHS and emergency service costs. Emmaus saved local government £2,447,612, which would have been spent on hostel accommodation, drug and alcohol services and landfill. Keeping people in work and out of prison saved the Ministry of Justice £778,435.”

The charity has 29 ‘communities’ nationwide, in which resources are pooled towards establishing a home, work and reintegration into broader society.

The Mossley ‘community’ branch of Emmaus, settled in the old Longlands Mill since 1994, serves as a social hub, charity shop and café providing aid and opportunities to the people in need. Last year their efforts ensured 26 formerly homeless people were given a home and work as opposed to the alternative, in which none ‘gain’, and all are hit with the far-reaching consequences of homelessness.

In Salford, where there are an estimated 1,088 homeless people, the Emmaus team shares on their website the unique experiences of those they have helped in the community. One story, which represents a similar pattern seen across many of those they help, begins with a personal loss. ‘Jed’ broke up with his partner and was evicted from their shared residence – after spending a short time with friends, he became increasing desperate:

“As it was the summer, I decided to pitch a tent by a pond in Heaton Park, in a place that I’d been to as a child and knew was off the beaten track. I thought I’d be safer there, especially since I’d heard of homeless people’s tents being set alight. I hoped it would be a safer option and make me less vulnerable. At that point I thought it might only be a week or two before the council found me a place but I ended up living in the tent for nine months.”

Emmaus Salford currently receives support as one of the Mayor’s nominated charities. It has received a £500 endowment due to it having demonstrated a commitment to making “a difference in their community or to help them achieve a specific goal”. Also listed as supporters are Salford City Council itself, and national Corporations and even a bank – as well as being a patron charity of (former Home Secretary and MP) Hazel Blears.

Greater Manchester has its own ‘Homelessness Strategy’ for 2018-2023, where it outlines what it sees as the policy/political roots of the problem:

“In the past ten years, the number of households affected by homelessness has increased across the country. During this time, Welfare Reform has introduced the freezing of Local Housing Allowance, benefit caps for low-income families, and Universal Credit; average rents in the private-rented sector have increased, and demand for social affordable housing has grown, outstripping supply.”

Of course, the ‘unsaid’ factor within this is the Conservative Governments implementing the policies being described and criticised above. In fact, these policies have met even international condemnation, with the United Nations even launching an investigation in August 2018 into the levels of extreme poverty leading to crises such as homelessness.

The charity sector has shown with the case of Emmaus that they have been able to take on some of the resulting upheaval, especially in welfare reforms. Along with Manchester City Council they have shown that a unified set of ideals and objectives can mean a cross-organisation approach can lay down a plan for the future. Both the Council and Emmaus share the idea that prevention is key and the Council argue awareness of the problem is the first step:

“To prevent homelessness we need to address inequalities that may exist in accessing employment, education, training, housing and health services across the city. We need services to be more aware of homelessness and what they can do to work together to prevent it.”

The story of Emmaus adds weight to the idea that, by helping the homeless, we truly are helping society as a whole, as individual suffering weakens and depresses a nation, not just in its finances and its social safety nets, but also in its character. In terms of direct action, Mayor Andy Burnham has led by example with a proposal to use Council buildings and town halls as the staging point for his pledge of “A Bed Every Night” to bring people off the streets to safety.

greatertogethermanchester.org/homelessness

emmaus.org.uk/your_local_emmaus/filter/north+west

Lucas Jones