We’re used to seeing the I Love Manchester symbol in a positive setting. It’s become a symbol of strength, resilience, solidarity and pride for many Mancunians.
But a recent photograph of a homeless man sleeping outside the I Love MCR sign in front of a Selfridges window in Exchange Square has exposed a glaring contrast between this positivity and the abject poverty that exists in our city.
The striking image makes for uncomfortable viewing.
Nathan Burke uploaded the photo onto his Facebook profile with the caption: “I’m sure he loves MCR too, but his Manchester is worlds away from ours”.
“We are all so accustomed to seeing people in doorways sleeping rough or slouched over benches that it no longer shocks us as it once did,” he wrote.
“I see mums taking pictures of their children in front of the same I Love MCR every weekend, this message has become a statement of solidarity after the horrendous bombing at the arena, this sign is now an attraction and right in front of it is an example of the homeless epidemic with have on our hands.
“I try to do my bit, I give out food packages and spare change when I have it and I know lots of people do, but what is really being done to solve this problem? This picture just highlights one of the awful truths of our wonderful city.”
And if it seems like homelessness is getting worse on our city’s streets, the statistics confirm it.
According to figures from homeless.org, Manchester had one of the highest instances of homelessness in the country last year, just behind Westminster, Brighton & Hove and Camden.
In 2017, the North West of England saw the biggest percentage increase in rough sleeping since the previous year (39%) out of all areas of the country, with a total of 434 people estimated or counted as sleeping rough on any given night.
The city also came fourth amongst the local authorities across the UK with the highest percentage of female rough sleepers.
Over the past three years, rough sleeping increased a whopping 130% in the city. And there are fears the figures could soar. According to their website, the number of people asking Manchester City Council for help has risen by 155%.
With one in 200 people homeless on average across the UK, according to the charity Shelter, in Manchester that figure rises to one in 154.
“There’s no doubt that it’s worse on every level,” Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham told a meeting of the Homelessness Action Network at the University of Salford earlier this year.
The mayor’s new draft plan to co-ordinate efforts to tackle homelessness is based on what he calls the four R’s: Reduction, Respite, Recovery and Reconnection.
Meanwhile, other initiatives across the city range from an exhibition by homeless photographers to a double decker tour bus being transformed into 14-bed accommodation to help some of Manchester’s homeless. That’s a total of 5,110 nights off the streets in the first year alone.
There is much more to be done, but these community initiatives offer a glimmer of hope and Manchester charities such as the Booth Centre, Lifeshare, Shelter, Coffee 4 Craig and Barnabus are all working hard to help tackle the problem.
Nathan, who owns XYLO Eats Drinks on Deansgate and often hands out leftover food from the cafe to the homeless, says he hopes that the photo will encourage people to help out in whatever way they can, rather than ignoring the plight of the most marginalised in society.
And that, after all, is what the I Love Manchester symbol is all about: solidarity, defiance, hope and standing together in the face of tragedy.