Back on Track: supporting homeless people in Manchester

Homelessness is one of the biggest social problems facing Manchester at the moment. The number of people sleeping rough on our streets has increased by an extraordinary 1000% since 2010, and it’s a very visible problem in the city centre.

The reasons why people become homeless are complicated, but a big factor is mental health problems – 80% of homeless people report some form of mental health issue. Sheena was in her mid-50s when she suddenly found herself on the streets. After surviving abuse in her childhood she found that her depression escalated and her problems spiralled out of control.

“I couldn’t answer my phone, I couldn’t open mail, I couldn’t go to the shop…I didn’t realise that my rent hadn’t been paid. I ended up being evicted. I was on the streets, I slept under a park bench and that was the most terrifying part in my life.”

Tom was just 19 when he became homeless: “I had been kicked out of my mum and dad’s house, was homeless and out of work, and was suffering from depression. I was living in a hostel – it was a horrible place and destroyed any self-esteem I had.”

For Darren it was the extreme damage that addiction can cause. “I lived most of my life isolated and full of fear – this took me to using class A drugs and surviving two years on the streets. I wanted to be dead every day for over a year and came too close five times…the devastation was killing my family.”

Tom, Sheena and Darren are just three of the homeless people Back on Track has supported in the last year. Many other people we work with are among the ‘hidden homeless’ – people staying on friends’ sofas or moving from place to place, and only ever one step away from being on the streets.

The Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, has made tackling homelessness one of his top priorities. There’s no simple solution, but working together is crucial, and we work closely with organisations that provide emergency support. Our role is to provide a way out – Sheena, Tom and Darren wanted nothing more than to get work, but without the right support, and without experience, they felt trapped.

At Back on Track people often start by taking part in one of our arts or wellbeing courses. We were proud to be involved in Manchester Street Poem – part of the 2017 Manchester International Festival – which gave a voice to homeless people. You can read Sheena’s story here. Later this year we’ll be taking part in With One Voice, an international arts and homelessness festival being run by the Mayor’s office.

Creative projects like these help people to face up to difficult events in their lives and develop ways of coping. The next stage is building skills and experience, and when people are ready they can move on to one of our training courses. These include work experience and a qualification, and many people go on to paid work in fields like catering and social care.

Sheena completed our Health and Social Care course because she wanted to find out about helping other people. With Tom, we helped a bike shop to set up an apprenticeship, and he got the training he needed for a career in cycle maintenance. And Darren completed our enterprise course, which teaches people about running a business.

Sheena, Tom and Darren are no longer homeless, and they are all making huge strides. Sheena is about to start a new job as a care worker. Tom is now a permanent member of staff at the bike shop and is thriving – he has even been named Cycling UK’s Young Achiever of the Year!

Darren, meanwhile, has just qualified as an electrician. His words perfectly sum up the difference Back on Track make: “I’m only writing this due to Back on Track who create miracles on a daily basis…they show you a life worth living.”