Why don’t we just… look at disadvantage in a new way?

Paul Pandolfo, programme manager at ICM, a project led by the housing charity Shelter

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Art has a way of allowing us to communicate differently and it’s this power that we’re hoping to harness at a new exhibition that will bring together those people of Manchester interested in social change, including some of the most disadvantaged people in the city.

At Inspiring Change Manchester (ICM), a programme led by Shelter and funded by the National Lottery Community Fund, we believe that a home is a human right, and that everything in life begins with a safe and stable place to call our own. However, we also see that there are many people living with homelessness in combination with other challenges, such as mental ill health, drug or alcohol dependence addiction and involvement with the criminal justice system.

Multiple needs and complex needs are terms regularly used but are we clear what this means? And how do people feel about being identified as having multiple or complex needs?

People facing this complex mix of challenges are also sometimes victims of domestic abuse, are likely to have poor physical health, may be sex-working and may be in severe debt. They could be asylum seekers with no access to public funds or services, or people with learning difficulties or physical disabilities.

But the severity and complexity of a person’s problems means they often have difficulty accessing public services and some are turned away from the very services that are set up to help them, because their behaviour is seen as too challenging. This means people with the most severe issues are even further excluded.

When Lauren* came to the ICM Hub in Manchester, she was homeless and already sleeping rough in the city. She’d struggled for years with harmful substance and alcohol abuse. But there was much more to Lauren’s story.

As well as being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, Lauren’s current relationship was highly abusive. Her GP had reported an undiagnosed personality disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, to add to the acute anxiety and depression that had plagued her for a long time. To add to that, Lauren’s offending history, primarily for shoplifting, meant she had spent much of her adult life in prison.

From education and health to housing and rehabilitation, each part of the system often doesn’t know that the other part is failing

It was when Lauren told us she was pregnant that we made a referral to specialist midwifery, and managed to support her with accommodation at a B&B and then into a one bedroom flat. We helped her develop budgeting skills and introduced her to our education, training and employment pathway, where she completed a parenting course and improved her basic literacy skills.

From education and health to housing and rehabilitation, each part of the system often doesn’t know that the other part is failing, and too often people like Lauren fall through the cracks.

Across Manchester, and in England, people with histories just as complex as Lauren’s are becoming increasingly common.

More than 60,000 people in England are living with multiple disadvantages, which are leaving them excluded from the support they need, isolated from the communities they live in.

On 3 July, our exhibition will link with communities from 12 cities around England, campaigning to raise awareness through the first ever Multiple Disadvantage Day.

The National Lottery Community-funded Fulfilling Lives projects will be hosting a series of simultaneous events across the country.

In Manchester, we’re holding a pop-up exhibition at the Niamos Arts Centre in Hulme called #SeetheFullP, to showcase art created by people with real-life experience, working with organisations including Shelter, Booth Centre, Mustard Tree, LifeShare, MASH and Men’s Room. The works will explore the common and shared humanity of the people whose lives are affected by systems that fail them.

This free event will start vital conversations. I believe it’s truly exciting to look at the issue through the eyes of people who have been there and lived it. We would love to see you there.

*Not her real name

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