Scandal of Greater Manchester's hidden homeless forced to seek shelter in caves

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.