Peel ParkThe University of Salford made big strides in helping the homeless community by pairing up with The Booth Centre charity once again to hold a Christmas meal to serve the homeless people of Manchester on
Monday December 5th.

According to Manchester City Council’s annual rough sleeper count in 2015, nearly twice as many people were sleeping rough on the streets compared with 43 on the same evening in 2014. There were just ten in 2011. Figures for 2016 are yet to be released.

Amanda Croombe CEO of the Booth Centre said, “we are facing a very challenging time with homelessness and rough sleeping on the increase again and still more spending and welfare cuts to come. However, the Booth Centre is now better placed to meet this challenge with 20 years of experience.

“We’ve run this event alongside the university for the past eight years. We offer a group of homeless people, who come along to the Booth Centre regularly, the chance to enjoy a Christmas meal as there is a high chance this will be their only celebration. It allows them to just have a nice afternoon alongside other members of the Manchester community.”

University of Salford Catholic Chaplain Sister Teresa Wild said, “the university catering team host a lunch for homeless people that are connected through the Booth Centre which is an open door for people who do need help which is available all year round.

“Last year we had about twenty people. It’s  nice to see its increased, some of them are local people who are homeless, others have come to the country for work who are asylum seekers.”

Above is audio of Sister Teresa Wild talking about the food serve.

According to official government figures, the city now has more rough sleepers than anywhere outside London.

The Booth Centre welcomes anyone who is homeless or at risk of being homeless. With a cafe and wellbeing hub that is open five days a week, offering people the chance to come in and enjoy a free healthy cooked breakfast and lunch in a sociable environment. It’s also an opportunity to have a shower, pick up essential toiletries, and talk to trained staff and volunteers.

University of Salford Chair of Netball Antonia Ward who has attended the food serve said, “I was approached by Sister Teresa asking if I would be able to bring along any of my team to help out with the serve. Two members of our team recently interviewed a homeless man and were really effected by his story so were really
thankful for the opportunity.”

John, aged 58, is one of the people who attended this christmas meal. John became homeless after the breakup of his marriage four years ago. His wife kept the house and their two children, now aged seven and 24. And he kept their two dogs.

“I don’t speak to my ex-wife or my children at all, I’m too embarrassed. They don’t have any idea of what I’ve become,” explains John who admits to hiding his face if he sees his eldest son around town.

“I had a job just as a joiner as I can’t read or write, but I got laid off five years ago due to cuts they had to make. We were struggling financially but figured it would get better, as I’m sure a lot of people did.”

John, who stays in a tent in Salford each night before moving back in to the city centre to access the services of The Booth Centre during the day, finds begging for money to be ‘embarrassing’ and ‘degrading.’

“I do it as I need the money to buy food for my dogs. That’s the most expensive part. I can’t stay at sheltered accommodation as nowhere accepts dogs, I just wish people would understand that the dogs are all that I have left,” he says.

“I keep my dogs for protection. I keep myself to myself, I’ve never touched a drug in my life. It’s those types of people, I don’t mean to stereotype, that are
every man for himself.

“Winter is the worst time. The cold and wet weather ruins the few belongings that I have and puts me in the mind set that makes me believe there is no way out.”

Manchester City Council previously had cuts in funding which affected areas such as its mental health provision, policing and councils, which in turn saw a spike in homelessness and rough sleeping.

“I feel like it’s a never ending problem for myself, I can’t get in to accommodation because of my dogs, and without an address I can’t apply for any sort of benefit that could enable me to get back in to work and back on my feet,” says John.

“This christmas meal though, I truly believe it’s a wonderful thing, I honeslty don’t think I’ve smiled as much, what The Booth Centre do is truly phenominal, the staff; both workers and volunteers, are wonderful humans I can’t thank them enough.”

John shared that he had seen an increase in younger people on the streets, which will make the UK’s homeless situation even worse from 2017 as the government has released plans to withdraw housing benefit entitlement from some 18-21 year olds.

It is important for such events to take place as a reminder that there are still homeless people who have fallen on hard times and to give opportunity to meet them as individual people rather than impersonal statistics.

The University of Salford netball team have also arranged to hand out food and comforting items to the homeless on Thursday 8th December. The team collected donations from their members in efforts to afford to buy 35 homeless people a bag containing a sandwich, packet of crisps, bottle of water, bar of chocolate as well
as a pair of gloves each.

By Kathryn Evans

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