Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham – committed to ending rough sleeping by 2020 – admitted today that the problem of homelessness had become worse.

“There’s no doubt that it’s worse on every level,” he told a meeting of the Homelessness Action Network at the University of Salford.

Unveiling a new strategy to tackle what he called a growing humanitarian crisis, Mr Burnham added: “More positively the Greater Manchester response is getting better.  But it’s not yet good enough. We need to be stronger still and escalate our response.”

Referring to newspaper headlines following the death of a homeless man on the street just yards from the Houses of Parliament, Mr Burnham said: “You would think, wouldn’t you, that the place down there would wake up to what’s happening under its nose…but I’m not holding my breath.”

It was frustrating “that for all the good work we are doing, policies beyond our control are putting people on the streets”. But it would be wrong, he said, to be in any way defeatist about that.

Mr Burnham said that the devolved NHS within the Greater Manchester Combined Authority has adopted policies enabling people of no fixed address to register with a GP, and hospitals would not discharge patients to no fixed abode.

There is also an ongoing review of mental health outreach services aimed at building standards to best practice. The Fire Service has offered fire stations as cold weather provision and councils are adopting new measures to the same end.

The mayor’s new draft plan to co-ordinate efforts to tackle homelessness is based on what he called the four R’s: Reduction, Respite, Recovery and Reconnection.

The aim is to reduce the flow of people on to the street; deploy funds totalling £4.3 million to support respite projects; and introduce the new Housing First project across Greater Manchester to create permanent affordable housing, which currently has 200 places increasing to 500 by the end of the year.

Mr Burnham said that the big focus would be re-connection.

“As we come through the Housing First project, how are we going to support people coming from where they are to building sustainable lives?”

The new Business Network, chaired by property developer Tim Heatley, has been launched to try and engage up to 200 businesses to support the movement.

The biggest cause of homelessness is now eviction from private rented accommodation, which has overtaken relationship breakdown.

“We need to have a big focus on the private rented sector as part of our work,” said the mayor.

“I am committed to the idea of a Greater Manchester good landlord scheme – it would have to be voluntary – where we put down basic standards so the public would know which landlords were prepared to sign up and those who were not.”

He added that it was his intention to take the draft plan’s proposals to the Greater Manchester Combined Authority by the end of next month to be formally adopted as policy.

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