Helping people who are homeless

A Saturday night out in Manchester has taken on a different meaning for Melanie Livesey, a tenant with Bolton at Home. While party revellers stay at home, Melanie and her fellow army of volunteers comb the streets looking for rough sleepers in need of help.

Now 12 weeks into the role, Melanie tells us what it’s like for people living on the streets during the pandemic and how the experience has changed her views on homelessness.

“I’ve been doing volunteer work in my community for a long time,” says Melanie, from Kearsley. “I’m an Operations Committee Member for Bolton at Home, and I also help out at the Storehouse Pantry and my local UCAN centre. When these had to close because of lockdown, I thought ‘what am I going to do now?’

“I knew about the charity, Homeless Aid UK, because I’d seen their group on Facebook. I got in touch with them to ask if I could do some voluntary work. The following week I was in Manchester with their outreach team, handing out clothes, blankets, shoes and food to rough sleepers. I’m part of a group walking around the city with suitcases and backpacks full of donations from the public and local businesses.”

“We try to help them get off the streets as well by signposting them to local hostels, charities and support services dedicated to helping rough sleepers.”

More than an eye opener

Melanie says her Saturday night patrols have changed the way she thinks about people who are homeless. “I think some members of the public have a perception of rough sleepers being drug addicts but the ones we help are just ordinary people who’ve happened to fall on hard times. Yes, some of them drink or take drugs but most have ended up on the streets because life has dealt them a blow. Marriage breakdown, abuse at home, mental illness and financial problems are common reasons.

“I was surprised by the numbers – on a typical Saturday night we help around 100 people. There are military veterans, teenagers who’ve been thrown out of their family homes and young pregnant women. They are the nicest people, and are always overwhelmed when we give them food or clothing. I’ve seen people in my community struggle before but this has been a real eye opener.”

Lockdown has had a big effect

Charities and local councils say that people who are homeless need support now more than ever. And Melanie agrees: “Lockdown has meant that cafes and takeaways are closed, and rough sleepers are struggling to find food. There are less people about as well – the usual passers-by happy to give money, sandwiches or cups of coffee aren’t on the streets. So the homeless need more donations and volunteers like us to get them through this difficult time.”

Keen to carry on once lockdown has eased, Melanie says: “I hope to keep working with the outreach team even when things start going back to normal. I come home after a five-hour shift knowing that I’ve made someone’s night that little bit better.

“It’s upsetting sometimes and it can get to you emotionally, but the people I help make it all worthwhile. A couple of weeks ago there was a man sleeping in a doorway who had no shoes. We managed to find a pair that fitted him and he was over the moon, as were the whole team. A pair of shoes – it doesn’t get more basic than that!”

Melanie has received the High Sheriff Special Recognition Award for her outstanding activity and contribution to society through volunteering. The High Sheriff of Greater Manchester, Dr Eamonn O’Neal DL (deputy lieutenant), has thanked Melanie for her thoughtful service and kindness. Congratulations Melanie.

Hope for Change

When the current lockdown is eased, please remember Hope for Change if you’d like to help people who are homeless in Bolton.

The Hope for Change campaign started in December and encourages us to donate to local charities that support vulnerable people, rather than give money directly to people begging on the street.

When the time’s right to return to shops, please look out for Hope for Change collection buckets placed in various locations across the town centre.

All funds raised will be distributed to charities that offer frontline support to help people get their lives back on track. It’s hoped this approach will help people off the streets for good.

The campaign was initiated by The Bolton Family. This is a partnership of more than 40 local organisations, businesses and charities, including Bolton at Home, that work together to improve the town and strengthen communities.

The money will be collected by local charity Urban Outreach and distributed through Bolton Community and Voluntary Services (CVS) to other local charities that directly support vulnerable people.

Dave Bagley, Chief Executive of Urban Outreach Bolton, said: “This is a hugely positive step that will give vulnerable people the targeted support they need.

“People who give money or food to people on the streets want to be supportive and have good intentions, but this doesn’t address the complicated range of issues they may be facing, such as addiction, mental health issues, or exposure to abuse and violence.

“The other thing to consider is there’s an element of street begging activity linked to organised crime and these people are not sleeping on the streets.

“By giving the money to charities that support vulnerable people instead we can encourage them to get the right support and reduce begging in Bolton.”

Please find more information on the Hope for Change website.

If you have a story to share, please email news@boltonathome.org.uk