A ‘lonely and scared’ elderly woman was found sleeping rough on the streets of Manchester city centre with only a duvet to keep her warm.
Volunteers from the Don’t Walk Past organisation spotted the shivering woman sitting on a sheet of tarpaulin on Market Street – the busiest in the city – on Tuesday evening.
They said it was unclear how the pensioner ended up there but said she was now off the streets and getting help.
Don’t Walk Past member Matthew Hudson spotted the woman along with other volunteers, including Lauren Jones, when they were out giving homeless people hot meals.
Ms Jones, 33, who took a heartbreaking picture of the situation, said: ‘She was very confused.
A ‘lonely and scared’ elderly woman was found sleeping rough on the streets of Manchester city centre with only a duvet to keep her warm
‘She was scared. She was sitting on a tarpaulin, with just a duvet. She was freezing cold.’
Ms Jones, from Irlams o’ th’ Height, Salford, offered to help the woman, but had to let her make the decision herself.
She said: ‘We made a few phone calls and gave her our card, to let her know we could help.
‘People have said: ”She can stay with me”, but it’s not as simple as that.
‘We went home and it played on our minds even more. We left at midnight and it was cold and wet. She was still out there.
‘I posted that picture on Facebook and it went viral. The picture was really shocking. It broke my heart.
‘I knew it was distressing yet powerful, but I didn’t realise how many people would be touched by it.’
Lauren and other volunteers, who alerted Manchester City Council, went back out on Wednesday to look for the woman, understood to be in her 60s.
Volunteers from the Don’t Walk Past organisation spotted the shivering woman sitting on a sheet of tarpaulin on Market Street (pictured) – the busiest in the city – on Tuesday evening
The town hall said outreach teams were sent to search for her too. At 5pm, the council said: ‘We are working to find her as a priority so she can be found accommodation and offered all the support at our disposal.’
Shortly after, Ms Jones found her.
She said: ‘She was very upset. She said she’s been moved on from where she’d been. She was in Piccadilly Gardens.
‘It was scary for her, there were lots of noises. She said it was like ”Armageddon”.
‘We’re still trying to find out what happened to her, how she ended up on the streets.
‘We’ve given her a new phone with a new SIM card. We can’t force anybody to do anything. It’s about gaining trust – we’re here if she needs us.’
Ms Jones said the woman was offered a place in accommodation outside the city centre, which she wasn’t comfortable with.
The group decided to put her up in a hotel for the time being, footing the bill themselves.
Ms Jones and her colleagues are still trying to find out how the woman ended up sleeping rough – and how they and the authorities can help.
For now, they’re giving her space. Don’t Walk Past, which has more than 4,300 members, was started by Ronny English.
‘He saw someone freezing cold and wet through sat in a wheelchair in Manchester one night.
‘He knew he had to do something about it.
‘It all started from there – a few people from Salford wanting to give back. People are only a few lost paydays away from being in that position.
‘Our message is clear – if you have the capacity to do something to help, stop walking and do it. Don’t walk past.’
A Manchester City Council spokesman said: ‘We are pleased to see that quick action was taken to get this woman off the streets and into safe, stable accommodation.
‘Our outreach team worked alongside homelessness charities and organisations to find her after being alerted on Wednesday.
‘While we were unsuccessful, we were relieved to learn that she had been found by a partner charity.
‘The public’s response has been gratifying to see and reinforces our belief that no Mancunian will stand idly by when people are forced to sleep rough.
‘We will always do everything in our power to support people in need and I now hope this woman gets all the help she needs to prevent her from ever having to sleep rough again.’