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Piccadilly Gardens plagued by spice and growing problem of homelessness

  • Special investigation by the Northern Quota and Fanshawe College
  • Many residents feel homelessness problem is getting worse
  • Reporting by Dan Mardle and Ben Townsend

Homelessness and drug usage have got worse in Manchester during recent years, especially around Piccadilly Gardens, according to police officers and members of the public.

The Northern Quota spoke to people who said that they have noticed an increasing amount of homeless people in the city centre, with many people who live on the street taking drugs in plain sight.

Others added that they don’t feel safe in Piccadilly Gardens as a result.

“This is the worst place to be as a police officer,” said PC Ash Choudhury, discussing problems with homeless people taking drugs in Manchester city centre.

“It has increased over the years. Nowadays, there’s more and more [homeless people] out there.”

PC Choudhury said police are only obliged to arrest homeless people if they are causing a disturbance.

PC Ash Choudhry

“The [police’s] hands are getting tied because of human rights sort of stuff. We won’t move them,” he told the Northern Quota.

However, PC Choudhury explained that drug usage varied in different areas.

 “If you’re a city centre cop you’re highly likely to get spice… but [in] Stockport the highest thing is cannabis related,” he said.   

“I’ve generally never come across spice.”

Yahuda, 24, who works for Uber Eats, said that he could see a growing problem with homelessness in Manchester during his work cycling around the city.

“It’s got a lot worse in recent years,” he said. 

“There a lot more homeless people and these days they’re doing drugs openly. You can catch homeless people with needles, smoking spice. I smell it more than I see it. It’s a really repulsive smell.

“It’s a really big problem right noStudentsw.”

Students Travis and Diana

According to voluntary crisis organisation Lifeshare, in 2018 95% of homeless people in Manchester take spice, a synthetic cannabinoid which has strong sedative effects.

The drug is usually smoked and can be purchased far more cheaply on the street than its counterparts, such as cannabis.

When explaining how he felt passing through Piccadilly Gardens on a regular basis, Yahuda said: “Personally, I feel safe, but I feel like people who are more vulnerable like women or older people may not feel as safe.

“Homeless people are constantly coming up to me and asking me for money all the time.”

Last year, Manchester City Council pledged $4.6m to support homelessness services, alongside an additional $500,000 for ‘enforcement’ of the private rented sector to support homeless families.

Yahuda

Mayor of Manchester, Andy Burnham, is also spearheading several campaigns, such #BedEveryNight, which, with the help of politicians, celebrities and businesses, among others, attempts to provide donations for homeless shelters. Burnham also runs the homeless charity Tackle4MCR with Vincent Kompany, a former football player for Manchester City.

Various other initiatives and charities that offer shelters, food and crisis services also operate around the city centre.

In 2017, The Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that more homeless people died in Manchester than anywhere else across England and Wales.

An article published by the Manchester Evening News this month voiced concerns about recent stabbings incidents between homeless people in Piccadilly Gardens, and that many of their readers and social media users routinely complain about the area.  

In response, Sir Richard Leese, Leader of Manchester City Council, told the paper: "We know that Piccadilly Gardens is a major issue for a lot of people which they have strong views about. We are committed to funding and bringing forward a scheme which will both improve its appearance and help make it more of a welcoming, family-friendly space.”

Gemma, 27, who has worked at pop-up cake stall in Piccadilly Gardens for four years, told the Northern Quota that homelessness has got “a lot worse” in the last few years, and that some homeless people have stolen food from her shop in the past.

Yahuda maintained that while trying to help homeless people, he often feels it isn’t worth it. 

“I follow the Bible, so we’re told that we have to give to anyone that asks, so I do feel obligated to give to them. But it can be a bit frustrating, because a lot of the times homeless people give me for money, and if it’s not as much as they want, they seem very ungrateful,” he said.

“They feel very entitled. When you give them something, they don’t appreciate it.”

Travis and Diana, 16, both students from Loreto College in Manchester, told the Northern Quota it’s hard to avoid the amount of homeless people they see around town, but that it doesn’t really affect them in day to day.

“You obviously want to help them, but you feel like there’s not a lot you can do. Giving them some money doesn’t feel like it does much,” Travis said.

They added that they were aware homeless shelters in Manchester struggle with funding.

Yahuda added: “I feel like we need to try to integrate [homeless people] back into society through different programmes. Maybe let them into rehab and educate them with some work skills.

“They could clean the streets, or get jobs picking up litter and get paid for that or be provided with some accommodation.”

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