Vulnerable people can now access a range of support services under one roof as part of a drive to help prevent homelessness and eradicate rough sleeping in Stoke-on-Trent.
Manna House, at Hanley Baptist Church, hosts a drop-in centre for the homeless and vulnerable every Tuesday between 10am and 12pm – providing a warm, safe place to have a meal, change of clothes and a shower. There is also a Thursday evening session from 6-10pm.
The service has been in existence for a number of years, but has recently been extended to include attendance by representatives from a range of agencies that can offer additional advice and support. It has received additional funding from the Stoke-on-Trent Responsible Authorities Group (RAG).
Stoke-on-Trent City Council and Staffordshire Police have worked together to create the care hub, which is attended by organisations including Arch, Brighter Futures, Voices, Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), North Staffordshire Combined Healthcare NHS Trust, Stoke-on-Trent Community Drug & Alcohol Service (CDAS), Re-Solv, and the city council’s housing solutions and adult social care teams.
It is part of the plans announced in September last year to create a permanent centre in the city that would provide emergency accommodation, support on employment and training, and wider financial and wellbeing advice. The proposals, which are still being developed, would see the council spend £3.5m on a hub and 20 accommodation units, and 10 self-contained accommodation units, to help people move on into the community.
Councillor Randy Conteh, the city council’s cabinet member for housing, communities and safer city, said: “As part of our research into the best way to create this permanent hub, alongside our partners we’ve been looking at how to bring together the kind of support services that vulnerable and homeless people need.
“Manna House already has a well-established drop-in centre that people can access for a hot meal and a shower, and by introducing mental health and addiction support services too for example, those who attend can also seek any additional help they need in order to turn their lives around. And they can do this without even leaving the building.
“It is an excellent example of partnership working, and having an awareness that the solution to a problem doesn’t just end with a roof over your head. We want to learn from the experiences of Manna House to help shape how the future, permanent hub will operate.
“We don’t want to see anyone in our city on the streets, and want to ensure that people who find themselves in a vulnerable position have access to the right support and services to meet their needs.”
Latest figures show the number of rough sleepers in Stoke-on-Trent is 21. There is a wide range of support available in the city for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness – with the facilities at Manna House being just one.
Councillor Conteh added: “I actually went on a visit to Wrexham, organised by Sergeant Karl Breen from Staffordshire Police, to view their homelessness hub and was extremely impressed. In Stoke-on-Trent we place a huge emphasis on the prevention of homelessness – we want people to come to us for help before it happens, so we can work with them to find solutions to their problems.
“But we’re also aware that once people find themselves without a home, they need support to help them get back on their feet. It's not just about providing a bed in a night shelter or hostel, but also about the support we can offer in terms of tackling the issues that has led to people sleeping on the streets. And it's about engaging with them at a point when they are ready to engage as well.”
Service user Graham, aged 53, said: “I’ve been homeless in the past, but I’ve got somewhere to live now and I have my children on the weekends. I then heard about this place and they can give me meals because I’m on Universal Credit.
“Without places like this I would starve. Plus the people here helped me to sort out a washing machine, a fridge-freezer and duvets for my children. Without this place I wouldn’t have those things, which are really important.”
Partnership Sergeant Karl Breen, who alongside Sergeant Laura Morrey led the early efforts to establish the hub, said: “There are often many complex issues that cause people to make bad decisions and no one agency has all the answers.
“This collaborative approach to help the most vulnerable in Stoke-on-Trent will help us to intervene as a partnership and rehabilitate those in need of support. Taking a more compassionate and joined-up approach means help is given faster and more effectively and agencies like Staffordshire Police see less demand in the long term.”
Pastor Trevor Nicklin from Hanley Baptist Church said: “People in need come here, and by having these services available we can give them the extra help they need. We’re hoping that the longer this hub continues, we can start linking people with the right services, to ensure they have long-term support.
“But the major challenge is not homelessness, it’s addiction. That’s what we need to be tackling first – addressing the root of the problem.”
Gemma Finn, city co-ordinator for Rough Sleeper Services at Brighter Futures, adds: “The community hub is a welcome addition to the existing partnership approach to tackling homelessness across the city. It provides vital opportunities for people sleeping rough to engage with us in a more flexible way, and on their terms.
“Our Rough Sleepers Team have been able to secure much-needed medical appointments and drug and alcohol treatment, as well as accommodation, all on the same day directly as a result of the community hub working. This is clearly something we hope will continue and evolve to suit needs.”
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