Underground Heroes: Judy Vickers, Next of Kin to 120 People

There has never been a more important time to protect the most vulnerable people in our society.

Speaking on the effect of the current pandemic on Manchester’s homeless population Judy Vickers, Operations Manager at Lifeshare says;

“The Covid-19 outbreak presents specific risks to the homeless sector as individuals sleeping rough, living and sleeping in shared spaces such as hostels, night shelters and attending day centres are particularly at risk as they are unable to self-isolate.

Lifeshare, along with all services in Manchester, are working in partnership to remain open as long as possible, whilst remaining safe and minimising the risk to both staff and clients.

People who are sleeping rough are at particular risk from the spread and impact of Covid -19 especially if they have underlying health conditions. Manchester Homeless Partnership along with MCC are working closely to get people into accommodation and make sure food provision is available to vulnerable groups across Greater Manchester.

As Mancunians we should be proud of our City working together to support the vulnerable and marginalised within our Communities.”

From the needle exchanges of the 80s, right through to the more recent scourge of Spice amongst Greater Manchester’s homeless population, Judy Vickers has been a consistent presence in supporting vulnerable people across the city for decades.

Lifeshare is a voluntary organisation established to help meet the needs of homeless and vulnerable young people across Manchester and Salford.

Judy and her team are on the front line in providing crucial life support to the people most in need of it, and Judy’s own experiences have given her a compassionate, real-world understanding of the challenges faced by the young people she works with.

“A lot of our staff, myself included, have been through their own lived experiences. I was in a women’s refuge due to domestic violence and rebuilt my life in 1996. It can happen to anybody. Most people are two pay-cheques away from being homeless.”

Lifeshare’s role is to be the first point of contact for them and to help not only facilitate the practical help and guidance they need to get their life on track, but also the genuine care and emotional support they might not otherwise have.

“We’re that place they know they can be safe. We’re supportive and non-judgemental. Each young person is an individual in their own right, and they are treated that way.

First comes their health. We will get them set up at the urban medical centre, get them set up for benefits and anything else they need. We need to look if substances are the issue, then that will be a referral to CGL.

We also have psychologists we can refer to, a lot of the young people we work with have experienced childhood trauma.”

Judy’s role in tackling the challenges of some of the city’s most vulnerable people has seen her featured in documentaries such as Vice’s Spice Boys, and BBC’s Hidden and Homeless presented by Professor Green.

Speaking on the topic of Spice, a cheap, synthetic ‘alternative to cannabis’ which up until 2016, was legal and freely available, Judy says

“At that point, it was being sold in newsagents and lots of other outlets across the city. So, although we were promoting to criminalise it, we knew it wouldn’t solve the problem and it would go to the street dealers, but it would still stop that easy access to get it.”

Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham has spoken regularly on the efforts and initiatives from the council to tackle what has been an increasingly prevalent problem across the city, pledging to “end rough sleeping by 2020”. Despite a reduction in the number of rough sleepers in Central Manchester and Salford recorded by Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) to 195 in September 2019, from 241 in November 2018, the numbers in five of the surrounding boroughs have increased.

Few people are better suited than Judy to understand the tangible impact and challenges these bring, and while there has been some positives brought about by the Mayor’s works, Judy suggests many are relatively cosmetic and in contrast to the wider commercial ambitions of the city.

“As a city, I think we’re doing a lot more than some cities. Andy has some great ideas, but when you’re fighting against two different camps it’s hard.

On one side, they are trying to gentrify the city, and make it look good to overseas investors, and vulnerable people are being pushed out of the city to make Manchester look more cosmopolitan.

For example, our breakfast project is now in Trafford, rather than the city centre, so while we used to cater for 120 people each weekend, we now get about 40 because people just can’t get out there.”

To find out more about Lifeshare, or to see how you can get involved in assisting Judy and the team, visit www.lifeshare.org.uk

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