How “A Bed Every Night” is building a better future for people affected by homelessness across Greater Manchester

In November 2018, Greater Manchester became the first city-region in Britain to commit to providing A Bed Every Night for “every single person” already on streets or at imminent risk of sleeping rough who wants and needs one.

The Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, launched A Bed Every Night, and continues to lead the initiative’s development.  He believes that effective collaboration between key public services would provide a respite service that makes financial as well as moral sense, especially as dealing with homelessness on an individual and timely basis can reduce the need for expensive intervention by a wider range of public services – e.g.  health care, police and the judiciary – over the longer term.

As it approaches its first anniversary, the evidence shows that A Bed Every Night is doing more than even the crucially important work of assisting people off the streets: it is changing lives.  Because of A Bed Every Night, 817 people have now secured long-term accommodation and more than 2,200 rough sleepers have had access to temporary accommodation.

As the initiative moves into its second year (Phase 2) funding will come through a comprehensive £6m package from a range of partners including the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA).  In addition, £2 million of NHS funding has been provided for A Bed Every Night from the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership (GMHSCP).

Riverside has been involved in A Bed Every Night from the earliest stages of its development.   Riverside Area Manager, Eleanor Watts, leads a dedicated group of people helping rough sleepers turn their lives around, including the 298 people who’ve used Riverside-run A Bed Every Night accommodation over the past year, and in 89 cases moved off the streets and into accommodation.

What have we learned from the first year of A Bed Every Night?

“When people ask me what we’ve learned over the past year, the only honest answer I can give is ‘where do you want to start?’” says Eleanor.  “Delivering the ambitious objectives set out by the Mayor, Andy Burnham, forced even the most experienced professionals to question everything we ever thought we knew about supporting people dealing with homelessness.

“We’ve been given the freedom to collaborate, design and deliver services we believe will work, and not simply because that’s how things have always been done.”

Eleanor cites Riverside’s decision to provide Manchester’s first 24-hour homeless shelters as an example of fresh thinking.

“There’s a number of different ways in which A Bed Every Night can be interpreted.  Some rough sleepers aren’t ready, or don’t want, to change the way they live.  So, for them, it means ensuring they’re guaranteed of a warm bed dry bed as often as they require.  For others, the ultimate goal may be to have a permanent home but, before they’re ready to take on the responsibility that entails, they’ll need help with issues ranging from dealing with addiction to getting back into work, possibly re-connecting with their family and rebuilding a sense of personal worth.”

She continues, “We knew from experience that we couldn’t meet such diverse needs in a traditional night shelter, in which residents sleep in dormitories and spend their days back on the streets.  We could provide beds in the buildings we used in the opening months of the initiative but we didn’t have the space, facilities or flexibility we needed to provide holistic support to individuals with multiple challenges and different aspirations.  All of which is why we moved, with our residents, to a more suitable building in Harpurhey.

“We also decided to do away with the “all-out” daytime curfew.  Allowing residents to stay indoors, instead of wandering the streets for most of the day, allowed them to get to know and feel comfortable, with our onsite workers and volunteers who could help with everything from benefits claims to mental health, medication or even the perfectly healthy, human desire for a friendly conversation.”

In August 2019, Riverside opened an innovative new resource in a repurposed, shared housing facility in Harpurhey, which is a couple of miles north of Manchester city centre.  The Harpurhey centre currently houses up to 24 residents, individuals, couples and, where necessary, pets, in private rooms.

Eleanor explains, “While it’s still classed as a night shelter, the Harpurhey centre provides much more than just a bed for the night.  Residents are given all the support they need to take control of their lives, whether that’s by accessing help with basic or mental health issues, dealing with addiction, or taking their first steps in the, often difficult, journey from the streets to a permanent home, a job and long-term stability.”

Prior to opening the Harpurhey facility, Riverside had already been providing a 24/7 hostel in another north Manchester suburb.

“One of the key lessons we’ve learned over the past year is that communal living is not always the best environment for people with complex needs,” says Eleanor.  “While we were able to provide beds in an old-fashioned dormitory, and a couple of hot meals a day,  the facility wasn’t suitable for housing, or working with, people with multiple complex needs.”

Today, the Harpurhey centre has a full time staff composed of a manager, three support workers and three project assistants plus a concierge who works through the night.   In addition to the Riverside team, residents have support from local health providers, including regular visits from mental health professionals and addiction counsellors.

“We want residents to feel at home, even if it’s only for a limited time.  We don’t impose draconian rules because we know they don’t work.” Eleanor believes that over the coming year, in phase 2 of the A Bed Every Night initiative, Riverside will work with a broader range of partner organisations, located within Greater Manchester and nationally, including Coffee 4 Craig, SPIN, Barnabus, Cornerstones and Manchester City Council’s Rough Sleeping Team.

“They say it takes a village to raise a child and it takes a community of agencies working together to help people piece together all the parts of their lives back together.

“By bringing broader range of agencies, organisations and expertise, A Bed Every Night is working smarter to put in place all the support and services homeless people need take control of their lives.

“Homeless people are excluded from almost all the building blocks that, for most of us, make up a ‘normal’ life.  Take bank accounts. Because they have no fixed address, they can’t get bank accounts which, these days, are essential, not just for financial purposes but also to prove an individual’s identity.   The A Bed Every Night initiative offers a solution via Lloyds Bank on Market Street, Manchester which has become the first bank in the country to provide accounts to people with no permanent address.  More than 200 people have already been able to open bank accounts.

“We’ve always seen A Bed Every Night as the starting point, not the ultimate goal.  To achieve what we all want – which is an end to homelessness – we need to build on the partnerships we’ve already seen deliver so much success.

“We will continue to work with individuals to provide the information, support and network of contacts they need to improve their health and quality of life, however they choose to live.  And, of course, we want to help people make the transition to independent living but only at a time, and at a pace, that makes sense for them.

“Ultimately, success for us is measured in terms dictated by the people with whom we work. It’s our job to enable them to build the life, and the future, they want,” concludes Eleanor. “I think I speak for the entire team when I say we’re confident we’ll be helping even more homeless people lead safe, healthy and happier lives.”