A SCHEME aiming to end homelessness has celebrated its first six months of operation.

So far Real Change Wigan and Leigh has helped to end or prevent homelessness for 47 people across the borough.

The organisation is reducing rough sleeping by covering essential costs for people who are homeless at pivotal points during their journey off the streets.

Over a third of beneficiaries have been rough sleeping or staying in a night shelter at the point of their application to Real Change, with none left on the streets when followed up after one month.

Others have been supported to settle into their new home and break the cycle of homelessness, or to avoid eviction in the first place.

Real Change is a form of alternative giving which helps to transform people’s lives by making small but crucial interventions at the time when people really need additional support.

The scheme has become a lifeline for people who are homeless by helping to provide small amounts of money to help them move away from the streets or avoid homelessness.

The money pays for things like training courses, clothes for a job interview, identification to register with landlords, or even a deposit for a home.

Providing this support when it is needed most can help to get people off the streets and back into a home, back into work, reconnecting them with their families, and giving them hope for a better future.

Ex-serviceman Sean*, 31, was sleeping at the Leigh Homelessness Hub, in the former Leigh Magistrates' Court building in Chapel Street, having exhausted the generosity of his friends after the loss of his rental tenancy.

Although he held down a full time job, the lack of somewhere to wash, change and get a proper night’s sleep was seriously affecting his work.

The shelter and Wigan Council’s housing team applied to Real Change for funding to get Sean the ID he required to apply for private rental accommodation.

They then went to various national organisations for funds to help him pay the deposit and first month’s rent for a flat.

Falling short by just £100, they asked Real Change to cover the remaining money.

Without the funding Sean’s stay at the Night Shelter would have continued, increasing the risk of him losing his job and spiraling into entrenched homelessness – as well as increasing the pressures on public services.

Jonny and Sara* applied to Real Change just before Christmas, as they were staying at the Leigh Homelessness Hub.

Before that they had been staying at the Bed Every Night shelter at St George’s in Wigan, having been victims of modern slavery in the UK and abroad.

Working with the support workers at charity The Brick, Jonny and Sara identified a property and were ready to move in.

But they were unable to provide ID to pass the landlord checks as they had not been able to get all their papers and documents together when escaping their previous situation.

Despite all their own hard work to get to where they were now; all the support charities like The Brick and others had provided; they were stuck being homeless for want of £15 for appropriate ID.

Fortunately, The Brick were able to make an application to Real Change to cover the cost and unlock this final step.

The card Jonny needed arrived within days, and he and Sara moved into their new place.

Real Change was launched in Wigan and Leigh on World Homelessness Day on October 10 last year.

People affected by homelessness can apply through any of the partners for specific items.

Items under £100 can be approved immediately, otherwise an independent panel will review applications within 48 hours.

Real Change is based on Manchester’s successful alternative giving scheme, Big Change, which has so far raised more than £250,000 to help end homelessness for people in the city.

It is now operating in two areas of Greater Manchester having launched in Rochdale in January this year.

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham said: “Homelessness and rough sleeping in Greater Manchester is a humanitarian crisis and I have made tackling it my number one priority as Mayor.

“The public play such an important part in efforts to tackle homelessness, including by donating to people, projects and organisations.

“Big Change and Real Change are excellent ways for the public to directly support funding for homelessness projects. I’m impressed by the start that Real Change has made in Wigan and Leigh – it is undoubtedly making a very significant difference on the ground.”

Real Change Wigan and Leigh is led by The Riverside Group, the third largest provider of homelessness services in the UK.

It includes the partners: Addaction, EDs Homes, Homeless Support Project, Jigsaw Homes, Society Support, The Brick, Wigan Wellbeing & Resilience, Wigan Council and Your Housing Group.

Campaign manager for Real Change, Robbie Cowbury, said: “Together Real Change and Big Change are making a tangible difference to the lives of hundreds of people who are homeless across Wigan, Leigh and Manchester and their wider families.

“What’s so important to remember in cases like Sean’s is that by providing a small bit of money we are able to prevent people spiralling further into homelessness and potentially entrenched rough sleeping.

"We are here to help people at all stages of homelessness.

"And we passionately believe that providing support for people earlier on helps to prevent further personal trauma, increasingly poor health and improve people’s life chances before they get trapped in a cycle of despair.

“Homelessness is complex, and by providing access to small pots of funding Real Change ensures that a lack of money is never the reason why people stay or become homeless.

"In combination with the other projects and organisations working to end homelessness, funding like this direct to the person affected is crucial to finding a home, landing or sustaining a job and setting the wheels in motion to improve their prospects and change their lives.

“Alternative giving is a new way for businesses and members of the public to donate money and time to help end homelessness in their community.

“Greater Manchester is renowned for doing things differently and is now leading the way nationally on this new form of help and support for people who are homeless.

“Places up and down the country from Newcastle to Bournemouth are looking at how they apply this model of alternative giving to help end homelessness in their area.

"Now we’ve got six months of experience from Wigan and Leigh, we’re looking at how we can help people outside Greater Manchester learn from our experience, and in fact are already working actively on a project in Guildford in Surrey.

“We’d like to thank the public for their support in rolling-out Real Change Wigan and Leigh over the past six months and ask them to continue supporting us so we can help to make a difference to more people’s lives in the borough over the years to come.”

To donate to Real Change Wigan and Leigh click here.

*names have been changed to protect the individuals concerned