David Adamson and Jonathan Schofield talk to all sides over the claim
A homeless charity has claimed Greater Manchester Police have been threatening arrest for the city's rough sleepers and homeless. This is creating confusion as council workers promise them beds for the night.
Don't Walk Past, a homeless outreach group who patrol the city centre on weekday evenings handing out food, clothes and sleeping equipment, say they spoke with three young homeless men on Thursday 7 September who claimed to have been threatened with arrest by GMP officers if they didn't leave their spot on King Street.
I'm seeing more rough sleepers than I've seen for a long time, and the approach seems to be, 'Let's sweep it under the carpet. Let's hide it away'
GMP, along with Manchester City Council (MCC), have been clear in their response. Both organisations said they could not corroborate the story and both were adamant this is not their approach to tackling homelessness in the city centre.
A spokesperson for GMP said: "We have spoken to our city centre team and MCC and we cannot corroborate this story. This is not something police or our partners do."
When Confidentials.com asked Don't Walk Past for an update on Friday (22 September) following the previous night's city centre walkabout, more claims were made by homeless people regarding GMP's approach to rough sleeping conflicting with what council workers had told them.
Glenn, a homeless man in Manchester, explained a difficulty he had on Wednesday (21 September) when faced with GMP and the Council outreach team, whose efforts to house the homeless are meant to be coordinated.
"The council outreach teams are coming round to doorways where we've been sleeping, telling us they're going to get us a hotel to stay in," he said. "Then maybe two hours after that the police outreach team have turned up and threatened to arrest us if we don't move out of the doorway.
"They then said if we went back to the doorway we'd be arrested, but the council outreach team were meant to be meeting us at the same doorway the next morning.
Obviously we couldn't meet them because we were told we'd be arrested if we go there, so we've missed the outreach team again and it's stopped us from getting somewhere to stay, and we've been trying for months now."
Another homeless man, Matt, said last week he was threatened with arrest by two GMP officers and a Police Community Support Officer (PCSO) after they ID'd him and took his photo. When no criminal record came up in relation to his name he claims they assumed he'd therefore given false information and moved him on with the threat of arrest.
Sian Byron, of Don't Walk Past, claims this lack of coordination - whereby the council's outreach team ask rough sleepers to stay near their spot so they can later be found and placed in accommodation, while GMP officers then tell them to vacate the spot or risk arrest - creates confusion and distress for people already in a vulnerable situation.
"I've been doing the outreach for four years now and if I'm honest, I've seen absolutely no improvement at all in the situation," she said. "If you speak to the rough sleepers, their take on it is there's an element of them being bullied by GMP. Not the homeless outreach teams, but the uniformed officers and the PCSOs."
It's worth remembering the police deny this completely.
"These guys who are sleeping on the streets," Sian continued, "they're at the lowest they can be and they don't need that. It seems to me that when something is going on in Manchester, be it the Tory conference, the marathon, the 10K, that's when all this seems to go into overdrive.
"There seems to be an absolute lack of communication. There may be between the council and GMP's street engagement team, but maybe not with the uniformed side."
If you speak to the rough sleepers, their take on it is there's an element of them being bullied
This begs the question of whether this same uncoordinated approach will be taken by police and council workers when the Conservative Party Conference takes place from Sunday 1 October to Wednesday 4 October.
Sian believes if what she's seen over the past four years is anything to go by, she's right to still harbour concerns about how rough sleepers will be handled in the run up to the conference, especially considering that she's seeing the numbers of homeless growing in the city centre.
"The situation is getting worse," she explained. "I'm seeing more and more people out, and more people coming out for food. I'm seeing more rough sleepers than I've seen for a long time, and new faces, so the situation is getting worse. It seems a bit like, 'Let's sweep it under the carpet', you know? 'Let's hide it away'.
"There's definitely a marked difference in how much they step it up when something like the conference is coming round. Things are cleared, things are taken, they lose their belongings more, the council comes with the caged vans - everything's just cleared. I do understand to a degree they can't have piles of stuff littering everywhere. I'm a Mancunian, I love Manchester and I don't want to see that in my city either, but it seems to me that they are targeted, and GMP could be more empathetic and understanding towards them.
"The way I see it, the council and the police don't want the visible aspect of homelessness on the streets in Manchester. I think because Andy Burnham and the leader of the council very much put it out there they're tackling homelessness and there's a bed for every night, obviously when people visit the city and see homeless people on every corner throughout the city centre, it doesn't really fit in with what they're saying."
GMP explained, reasonably, how it couldn't comment on specific situations without further details such as specific times, dates and places, something it can prove hard to ascertain from rough sleepers. GMP also denied a lack of coordination between the various agencies.
Inspector Glen Rees of Greater Manchester Police’s (GMP) City Centre district said: “We can’t comment on the specific comments due to lack of information provided to us, however GMP work incredibly closely with Manchester City Council, other partners, and charities to ensure those who are homeless can access the correct resources and support.
“Our collective aim is to assist those on the streets as much as possible to prevent a further need to beg or sleep rough.
“Our partnership working is focussed on helping tackle any underlying issues that may have led them to being on the streets, to help them build and sustain a more permanent home and future.
“In certain situations, partners may ask for our involvement to move people off the streets and point them towards the Street Engagement Hub or other services.
“Where criminal offences have been committed, enforcement may be considered, if attempts to engage and encourage haven’t worked, and arrest is deemed to be the most proportionate and appropriate response to tackle an ongoing situation. Enforcement is usually always the last resort, but every situation is assessed individually on its merits.
“We would encourage anyone with concerns to speak to us.”
Where criminal offences have been committed, enforcement may be considered
Many people in Manchester might want more robust policing of the rough sleepers and the homeless. Everybody will have an instance of walking through the city centre and seeing altercations, foul language and rough sleepers acting aggressively usually to each other.
This week a Confidentials.com writer witnessed three rough sleepers screaming at each other on the platform of the Metrolink station at Exchange Square around 10.30am. Regular travellers were backing away. It was tense. At these times you want the police to be there and on top of the situation.
Of course, as Sian Byron points out, many of the rough sleepers are at ‘the lowest they can be’. Mental health problems, addiction and a whole roster of circumstances lead people to live on the streets. Sympathy and assistance has to be extended to those in this situation and it hardly matters whether it’s through external circumstances or their own actions.
What seems clear is there is no proof of a policy to clear the streets of rough sleepers ahead of the Conservative conference. None. The police are pursuing established procedures.
Sian Byron and some of the homeless see it differently. The work of outreach bodies such as Don’t Walk Past is vitally important but that work will lead them to see the homeless and rough sleeper situation one way, the work of the police will give them a different perspective. This is inevitable.
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