Last Saturday night I slept out on the Flag Market to raise funds for Fox Street which for years has provided vital support to Preston’s homeless community and is struggling to remain open due to annual cuts in funding of £170,000. Joining me were around 30 people ranging from local religious leaders, volunteers and even workers from the nearby McDonalds. All of us wanted to do our bit to support this crucial service.Advertisement
Last year, our then Mayor Brian Rollo slept out with Mayoress Trisha and two of our Cabinet Members Peter Moss and Peter Kelly. This year it was my turn because as a new Council Leader I wanted to show solidarity with the least fortunate and gain some experience of what it maybe like sleeping rough.
Every day we see homeless people on our streets. Rough sleeping has tripled across the U.K. since 2010. Preston has not insulated itself from this rise and without the hard work of our public sector staff and local organisations like Fox Street, The Foxton Centre and Emmaus the problem would be twice as bad.
Read more: Fight against rough sleeping in Preston receives huge cash boost
Before I slept out I had already taken the opportunity to talk with a number of our rough sleepers. One man a similar age to me told of years of childhood abuse. This emotional pain led to a drug habit leaving him destitute, with a mental health problem and a life in and out of the criminal justice system. I offered him a small amount of money but he said listening to him was the best thing I had done that evening. When you walk past homeless people it is worth thinking of this man’s story. Most of our homeless community have similar stories of trauma or abuse meaning they have difficulty functioning the way most of us can.
My night was cold and damp but was nothing compared to weeks or months sleeping on our streets. At Preston City Council we are working to tackle the problem with our Make Every Adult Matter (MEAM) project working across agencies to combat the root causes of homelessness. Cllr Nweeda Khan as Cabinet Member for Social Justice and Inclusion is taking this forward to address these complex issues that put people at risk of becoming homeless. Along with our fairness agenda we will fight back but it is not easy with year on year cuts to budgets.
Ultimately, tackling homelessness needs an end to austerity which is ultimately a political choice. Cuts to in and out of work benefits, preventing councils from building social housing scale and the growth of insecure employment further contribute to the problem. Fox Street shouldn’t have to rely so much on volunteers or donations from hard working people because our government chooses to prioritise tax breaks to large corporations or multi millionaires they simply don’t need. It is a sad indictment of society we have allowed it to come to this.
You can help to Keep Fox Street Open by visiting the Justgiving page.
Councillor Matthew Brown is the leader of Preston City Council.