By GMHA (@gmhousingaction)
On 13th October, Chris Blaine was sentenced to two months in prison for asking for something that most of us take for granted: a decent place to live. When Chris stood on the rooftop of Ducie Bridge, the pub that had been his home and the shelter he had helped to create for those in need, he sought to give a voice to a silent demographic, Greater Manchester’s growing homeless population.
Chris’s story is by no means unique. After finding himself unemployed and losing his home, Chris sought help from the council. Being a single man, he was not considered a high priority, and so did not qualify for their ‘duty of care’. Similar stories are told over and over by those who live on our streets. People in doorways, writing poems, painting pictures, making jewellery, singing songs. Army veterans, divorcees, fathers, mothers, daughters, sons. People who have been silenced, ignored and dehumanised. Chris Blaine is part of the movement of homeless activists which has swelled over the last three years, in response to the lack of action from local authorities to help the homeless. He is erudite, passionate and justice-seeking, and stands in the Mancunian tradition of challenging society’s inequalities.
Because today, Greater Manchester is manifest with inequalities. Over 6,000 people presented as homeless to Greater Manchester’s local authorities last year, despite there being 11,000 empty properties. The most dramatic rise in homelessness last year was amongst women and 16 – 21 year olds, and as housing benefit is cut for this demographic, the problem is likely to only worsen. This is a crisis of dwindling affordable homes, stagnating wages and slashed public services, all of which show no signs of abating.
Council initiatives to tackle homelessness, such as Big Change and the Homelessness Charter, while well-meaning, are trivial in the context of its economic agenda of attracting business elites, developers and housing magnates. Squats like Ducie Bridge, where Chris lived and worked, are a prime example of citizens taking charge when their authorities fail to act. Chris took in dozens of Greater Manchester’s homeless and helped to reduce their dependency on substance abuse, to practice self-care, and to begin to look for employment. GMCA should be supporting these projects, not suppressing them.
Greater Manchester Housing Action sends a strong message to GMCA, and Manchester City Council:
GMHA stand in solidarity with Greater Manchester’s homeless population and Chris Blaine. We make this statement in the belief that imprisoning those most in need in our society is not an effective or acceptable solution. We make this statement because the housing and homelessness crisis is worsening and it is not being given the political attention it demands. We make this statement because the unaffordability of its properties, the precarious and insecure accommodation of its residents and the homeless on its streets demonstrate that the current system in Greater Manchester does not work for the majority.
Rather than fund luxury properties, unaffordable for most of Greater Manchester’s residents, the devolution deal must be used to tackle Manchester’s growing housing and homelessness crisis. The solution to this does not lie in attracting more wealthy investors whose motivations are shaped profit rather than empathy. We need a progressive and radical policy on housing. We need to see the construction of new housing and the rehabilitation of Greater Manchester’s many empty buildings. We need to remember that properties are not just assets, they are homes.
26 October 2016