It's Saturday afternoon and, outside, it's absolutely freezing...two degrees but it feels like minus two in the howling wind and driving rain. And that's where 15 homeless people would be if they weren't being given shelter in an occupied old doctor's building next to the Salvation Army HQ on Liverpool Road in Eccles.
Inside, a bloke and a woman are playing pool, while a Christmas tree sparkles in the background and hot drinks are being passed around. The place is spotless, organised and, for fuck's sake, people have got smiles on their faces. This is a proper home. For the homeless.
Here there are those who have fallen through GM Mayor Andy Burnham's 'A Bed Every Night' initiative; who are not only getting an 'illegal' bed every night but also support from volunteer outreach workers, charities, Salford Council's rough sleepers team and the Salford community.
"We are in an NHS building, and took these people in because we feel as human beings that they shouldn't be on the street, especially with the weather dropping each day around Christmas time" explains Angela Barratt of Salford Street Support, who has been volunteering each day along with fellow outreach workers Stuart and Jannah.
"We're doing our best to support these people and we want to bring more people into this building because while we've got it we feel that we're saving people's lives, giving as much support as we can" she adds.
The team are networking with charities to get them registered with doctors, while getting birth certificates so they can get ID. Some have even started training courses run by the Broughton Trust, while others have found work. It shows what can be done when people with either lived experience of homelessness or experience of working face-to-face with the homeless can do in a D.I.Y. setting.
"We've had a few ups and downs but we're managing it" says Angela "We've had meetings with the rough sleepers teams, with the fire station and housing providers. The Council's rough sleepers team have been very good with us and they've promised that they'd give everyone in this building 'a bed every night'."
Which begs the question of why this morally legal, but lawfully illegal, shelter is needed. So far, eight people have been sent to the 'bed every night' scheme but only two have been housed...
"We've had a problem with some of them because where they want to send them isn't suitable as it's not fitting their individual needs" Angela explains "Some have got mental health problems, some have got addictions and Stacey has a dog, so it's harder to house her but they are going to do their best."
So, it's a 'bed every night', as long as you haven't got any problems?
"It's all complicated" she adds "For me personally, someone who has an addiction or mental health problem shouldn't be put in a room with other males, they need to be on their own but with support."
And a 'bed every night' isn't doing that? "As far as I'm aware it's not" she responds. So, this building exists to fill a gap that Andy Burnham isn't filling? "Yes definitely...
"We've all come together as outreach volunteers with lived experience" she adds "We're grass roots, we see all the deaths, all the misery that's being caused by homelessness. There's a lot of negativity about homelessness, and the thing that people need to remember is that they are just like me and you; they're our family, it could be anyone.
"I was born into severe poverty and we got through it" she recalls "but the way I see it is that we've got electric and we've got toilets inside but it's just as bad as it was then because people can't afford to have their heating on, their rent charge is ridiculous and Universal Credit is basically destroying people's lives because they're getting in rent arrears.
"Some of the stories they've got are heartbreaking" she says "A lot of them have been through horrendous things that you'd only see on a film or tv documentary."
Benevolence is at the heart of this shelter, and while organisations and charities like Salford Unemployed and Community Resource Centre, the Broughton Trust, the rough sleepers team and people from the Salford community have been incredible, the NHS, which owns the building, is apparently determined to evict, although no court order has been issued yet.
"We've been asked to leave building and said 'No', hoping they have some compassion and let us stay here over Christmas, because I know that I wouldn't be able to survive outside in this weather" says Angela "We're doing our best to protect people and keep them safe."
Volunteer, Stuart, who has experienced homelessness himself, has looked into the deeds and found that, while the building is owned by the NHS and can't be used for anything other than health or dentistry, the land is owned by the Salvation Army, which has been incredibly supportive, sending in food, clothes and even Father Christmas to cheer people up.
"The building has been empty for years and has only been used to store NHS cleaning equipment" he says "Yet a bloke came round the other day to price up a job to tin it up while we're still in here! The building is only going to be empty when they tin it up but I'm hoping we'll be safe over Christmas. We're even willing to pay some rent as there's some people here who are working, while others are entitled to housing benefit. We've offered this but had no response."
Meanwhile the sign on the railings outside says it all... 'A home 4 life, not just for Xmas'...
As there are vulnerable people within the shelter, there is a ban on visitors coming to the building but donations can be dropped off (but can't be picked up). The shelter needs tracksuit bottoms, socks, non-perishable food and toiletries.
Direct message Angela or Stuart via the Facebook group Saving People Shelter Project – click here.
People can also donate via the Saving People Shelter Project Fundraiser page - click here
For more background also see previous Salford Star article: New Eccles Homeless Shelter Is Saving Lives - click here