Walk into any town or city and the number of people living out on the streets is hard to ignore. So hard to ignore, that it’s finally being talked about by people and politicians.
The Government has pledged to end rough sleeping by 2027. Andy Burnham says he’ll do it in Greater Manchester by 2020.
Both are challenging goals, but ending rough sleeping might be almost possible. Ending homelessness is a task on a completely different scale.
Across the North West there are more than 10,000 people who are homeless - about 400 of them are rough sleeping. The rest live in hostels or temporary accommodation, often provided by the council. In Manchester, eighty people who are at risk of homelessness seek help from the council every single day.
But council budgets have been cut, mental health services are stretched, and the benefit system requires people to wait for their payments to come through. Homelessness Minister Heather Wheeler denies this has anything to do with the rise in rough sleeping.
She points to the rollout of Housing First in the Liverpool and Greater Manchester - a scheme that gives a home, along with intensive support, to those who need it. It’s been successful overseas, and is working up the road in Preston - a small sign of hope for some of those who are most in need.
But Housing First needs houses. And we all know there aren’t many of them. None of these policies will work in the long-term, if there aren’t more genuinely affordable homes for people to move into when they’re ready.
As rough sleeping becomes more visible, charities and volunteers are doing their best to fill the gap - at day centres where people get food and support, and out on the streets, where local groups hand out donations. In Greater Manchester, it is the public, not Government, who have raised money to give rough sleepers A Bed Every Night.
If the number of rough sleepers goes down this winter, will the political pressure remain? Are these policies for people who don’t want to have to see rough sleepers out on the street? Or are they for the mothers and babies, the families and young people, who facing the New Year in temporary accommodation? Their battle for a home takes place out of sight.