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The Manchester Evening News has recently taken to the streets to speak to rough sleepers in Manchester, the city with the highest number of rough sleepers outside the London area. It is a very bleak picture that they paint. There are stories of addiction, despair, bereavement and harassment. Stories of domestic abuse, prostitution, pimping and trafficking.

There are even stories of young mums whoring themselves out, just to try and cover essential bills and put a meagre meal on the table. Sofa surfing, and discovering that one of your friends has frozen to death in the night. In Manchester, there are a few reasons why the homeless problem is so great. Firstly, London is out of the question, the ‘homeless’ in London are usually migrants, and also highly aggressive over ‘their’ patch. Secondly, the North is a lot cheaper than the South, and if you are truly destitute, you’re more likely to get back on your feet if the prices aren’t sky high. But there is a negative to this too.

Booze is cheaper, as are drugs, and a lot of the homeless end up on this slippery slope. Spice, a synthetic drug, is available for pennies, it is not uncommon to walk up Market Street and see at least one person slumped due to Spice’s powerful effects.

It’s not difficult to see why the homeless turn to these things, because they offer an escape, a temporary black hole in which you don’t have a care in the world. Unfortunately, Spice is more addictive than Meth, Heroin, Weed and Booze, and so the vicious cycle begins.

There are currently swathes of shops, old banks, office buildings and former pubs, bars and restaurants vacant in the City Centre. Some of them do really need bulldozing, but for the most part, they are structurally sound. Instead of deterring rough sleepers, why not use these buildings to provide homeless people with a safe environment, somewhere that offers services to help get them back on their feet. I’m not talking a rehab centre, but a place that offers practical help including help getting accommodation, work, drug and alcohol support, essential medical care, hot showers, interview workshops, a hot meal.

The problem isn’t going to go away until we tackle the very heart of it, and the only way we can tackle that, is by going to the core and offering the support and guidance and working from the inside out.

I know for a fact that Manchester City Council has buildings sat empty all over the place. What the council should be doing is opening these buildings and utilizing them to help get others back on their feet so that in time, the very people that have been helped will then help the council by having jobs, paying taxes and being better people and citizens that the area wants to see. Not so drunken/drugged up hobo sprawled out in the entrance to Debenhams.

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Sara O'Connell
A passionate photographer from Arizona, Sara enjoys art and culture.