New highs for Wigan's homeless aid

Coun Terry Halliwell and officers have a look at facilities shortly after the hub first opened in December
Coun Terry Halliwell and officers have a look at facilities shortly after the hub first opened in December

The arrival of two schemes in Wigan means those tasked with tackling rough-sleeping are better equipped than ever before.

Council and charity bosses say provision across the borough “has come a long way” in the last 18 months.

Operations director at the Brick homeless charity James Leach-Holt

Operations director at the Brick homeless charity James Leach-Holt

Back then there was limited emergency bed space that may have depended on the time of year or even if it was a weekend.

Now, with the council’s two new hubs up and running alongside a GM-wide initiative, staff have the luxury of choice, for the benefit of those hoping to get their lives back on track.

“Instead of saying: it’s either these five beds or nothing else, now it’s about what is best for the individual, to what level do you want to engage?” said James Leach-Holt, director at The Brick homeless charity that operates the hubs on behalf of the town hall.

“It has allowed us to listen more to what people’s needs are.”

The council’s hub in Wigan, opened just before Christmas in the Coops building in the town centre, provides emergency accommodation and “wraparound” support services.

Along with its counterpart facility in Leigh, it is the culmination of a town hall strategy to bring previously “fragmented” services to help rough-sleepers together.

“We need the emergency accommodation but we need to address the many reasons behind homelessness,” deputy leader Coun Keith Cunliffe told colleagues last year.

Alongside the council’s effort sits Andy Burnham’s A Bed Every Night Scheme, part of the GM mayor’s pledge to end rough-sleeping in the city region by 2020.

Wigan’s ABEN provision sees emergency accommodation provided at St George’s Church, also in the town centre, a short walk from the hub.

Initially only a temporary scheme, it has been extended for another 12 months.

For Mr Leach-Holt, the dual facilities have provided a more “sustainable” approach.

The more immediate task of getting people off the streets and safe accommodation can be provided at St George’s.

Wider support services and facilities – in addition to living quarters – are then available at the hub.

“There can be a natural progression,” he explains. “It can be a transition, it’s more of an approach now rather than quick-fixes. Individuals can access St George’s because they might not necessarily want the wraparound services provided at the hubs straight-away, that can be overwhelming. Now we can build up to that. Sometimes it can be too much, too soon.”