Scandal of Greater Manchester's hidden homeless forced to seek shelter in caves
Parts of the area have seen a surge in people unable to put a roof over their heads, according to new government figures.
Homeless people are being forced to live in CAVES – as destitution spirals across the region.
Parts of Greater Manchester have seen a surge in people unable to put a roof over their heads, according to new government figures.
The worst hit area is Stockport – with a 42pc increase in just one year – although Trafford and Rochdale are not far behind on around 40pc.
Stockport’s main homeless charity says it has seen demand double since 2010.
Now an M.E.N. investigation has discovered Stockport’s hidden homeless are using a network of sandstone caves near the town centre.
Up to four people at a time have been sleeping rough in the secret warren – perched on a 20ft precipice overhanging the Mersey – just yards from public view.
The caves are currently being used by a homeless Estonian man, who arrived a few weeks ago from the West Midlands. But local shelter the Wellspring say they have been used by many others with nowhere else to go.The charity’s project manager, Jonathan Billings, says the number of people turning up each day for support has soared from around 60 or 70 to around 140 in the last three years.
There has been a particular surge in more middle class, affluent people who worked for years only to suddenly lose everything in the downturn, he said.
Meanwhile there has also been a marked rise in the number of homeless Eastern Europeans.
The M.E.N is not revealing his identity – or the exact location of the cave – in order to protect its current occupant.
Jonathan said: “Unfortunately when people are sleeping rough they will come to very dangerous places. I know of people who have fallen into the river. Sometimes kids come down and set fire to their sleeping bags when they’re in them.
“But if it wasn’t there, it would be somewhere else. I think readers would be surprised by the extent of it – people are hidden away from the public eye.
“I don’t think politicians are aware of the scale of the problem.
“We have got to pull together to help people, whatever their situation. Nobody wants to see people living in a cave.”
Stockport council leader Sue Derbyshire said she had no idea people were living in caves – or even that the caves were there.
But she added: “I do know we have people going out looking for rough sleepers, who are very good at getting people off the streets and into temporary accommodation.”
Jennifer Williams finds her way to a hidden ‘home’ perched over the Mersey which is dry and safe... but not much else:
Pushing through the hawthorn and squeezing – just about – through a gap in the railings, I congratulate myself on remembering to wear flat shoes.
Ahead of me lies a precarious 50 yard walk – or stumble – to enter the secret world of the modern day cave-dweller.
“Imagine making this journey in the dark, drunk or on drugs,” says my guide Jonathan.
I would rather not. Edging along carefully, the fast-running Mersey swirling dangerously below, my trip is a health and safety nightmare. But therein – at least partly – must lie the appeal. Because despite being a stone's throw from civilisation, few people would have any real clue that this warren of strange stone hollows exists – and even then would struggle to reach it.
Despite being littered with half-empty tins of rotting food, condom wrappers and dirty clothing, it has two things in its favour.
It is dry. And thanks to its location, it is relatively safe.
Nevertheless as KP – the Estonian man currently living here – tells me in broken English, it is cold. “It is not good,” he adds, as he roots through the mounds of rubbish around his camp bed. It is something of an understatement.
Back at Stockport's homeless shelter, the Wellspring, Jonathan points to four or five people included in a memorial display at its entrance. They have all lived in the caves at some point, he says.
“Drugs, drink, or drink and drugs,” he adds, listing what killed each of them.
None have so far lost their lives to that steep fall down to the Mersey. But as the numbers of homeless steadily rises, that could only be a matter of time.