In 2014-2015, the number of homeless people in Greater Manchester (GM) doubled. Over the last few years, the sight of people sleeping rough in makeshift tents in the city centre has sadly become commonplace. It is a huge issue for GM and cities around the world.

Part of Manchester’s response has been to create the Manchester Homelessness Charter: a coordinated, cross-sector approach to a very complex problem. Its central philosophy is that people with lived experience of homelessness are part of the solution. Despite the fact that homelessness remains a major issue, many action groups within the Charter are making significant progress as they find innovative ways to address the challenge. One notable example is the Street Support website and app, which helps people find services for themselves or others experiencing homelessness.

I was confident that this year’s Meridian participants would be able to make a positive contribution to the issue. As part of the Common Purpose programme, 45 senior leaders from the public, private and not for profit sectors across Manchester and the North West convened in Manchester to explore the Challenge: How can the private, public and not-for-profit sectors work better together to address homelessness?

Based at Manchester Cathedral (the home of the first Booth Centre in Manchester for people presenting homeless), participants heard from: Jez Green, the facilitator of the Manchester Homelessness Charter and Jo Wilson, a volunteer at the Booth Centre who was able to share her experiences of being homeless in the past. Sam Jones, MD of Tunafish Media, also spoke about the work he has done as a business leader to address the challenge in Manchester.

The group then visited multiple organizations across the city, including Mustard Tree, Booth Centre, City Council, One Manchester, CityCo, Royal British Legion and Greater Together Manchester. They reconvened to share the learning and began to develop ideas in response to the Challenge, which they presented to a panel of city leaders.

A number of ideas emerged; here are two that the group hope to take forward:

1)      Rebalance the education system – move from academic to more practical education designed to provide ‘life skills’ and stop homelessness with ties in with PSHE, community learning and the RESPECT agenda. This idea aims to take a systemic approach to solving a big messy problem; as Alex King from CityCo remarked, systemic change is hard but necessary. One of the participants involved is already looking at allocating funding to pilot programmes with students at a local college.

2)      Pop-up hostels – an AirBnB-style website that acts as a hub for empty buildings, rooms to let (i.e. people opening their homes to the homeless) and a hostel database. Directly linked to the ‘Street Support’ app, this would allow service users to review and compile an accurate list of what each hostel/charity is able to offer the homeless service users. Participants involved in this are also looking at how they can take action around emergency accommodation in the city.

Sam Jones spoke about how quickly the group had understood the context and the complexity of the challenge in a short space of time. He remarked that it took him two years to grasp what they had grasped in one day. Presenting the leaders with a complex social challenge forced them to see an issue from multiple perspectives. I was particularly inspired at how the day really challenged people to think about homelessness differently and to draw on their different experiences and backgrounds to generate ideas.  When you are addressing a messy problem, it’s always quicker and easier to involve people who think like you do. But when you bring together people who think very differently, the solution is always smarter.

Participants will continue their learning journey on the Common Purpose Meridian programme for senior leaders, which ends in April.

Find out more about Common Purpose leadership programmes.