Should I Just Walk By?
It’s a sight most of us who have been to any major UK town or city in the past ten years are familiar with; homeless people destitute on our streets. It’s both uncomfortable and upsetting and it can be difficult to know how to help. Can you even help?
The recent figures published by the Greater London Authority match the year-on-year percentage increase in rough sleeping, with it increasing 18% in London over the past year. The Marylebone Project is situated in Westminster and the same report has found our borough to have the highest rate of rough sleepers with a staggering 2,512. This isn’t just a London phenomenon either, a report published by Labour has found councils worst hit by austerity have seen the largest number of homeless deaths, with nine out of these ten councils in England and Wales having cuts of over three times the national average between 2013-17. These include four London boroughs, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Blackburn and Liverpool.
The situation is bleak, and it can’t be sugar coated. But there are many practical ways you can help, and we’re here to help you.
StreetLink is an app and web page provided by Homeless Link in partnership with St. Mungo’s that allows the public to act when they see a rough sleeper. You provide details of the person’s location and general appearance so local outreach teams can connect the rough sleeper with support services and get them off the street. An initial assessment will take place, then the outreach worker will look at solutions to solve the person’s homelessness. This can take some time as the complexities of rough sleeping are a mixture of short and long-term problems. You may initially not see a change in the person’s situation, despite support being offered.
Have a chat
A friendly conversation will make the world of difference, especially in the hostile environment many of our rough sleepers are faced with from some of the general public. The news is riddled with reports of tents and sleeping bags being burnt, and rough sleepers being assaulted. Listen to people you meet, ask them if there is anything you can do to help their situation, see if they need a drink or food. Small talk and a personal question can make a big difference.
Can change help change?
We shouldn’t tell you what you should or shouldn’t do with your money, but we can give you knowledge based on our experiences so you can make an informed decision.
Rough sleeping and begging are separate issues. Some people who are homeless do not beg, and some people who beg are not homeless. We know some people beg because they are destitute and have no access to funds, but some have a place to stay and need money for other things like alcohol and drugs.
It is important to remember most homeless hostels are free at the point of access, and most cities and towns have day and night shelters that provide food and can signpost to services that can help long term. Outreach teams build relationships with rough sleepers and support them off the street over days or months. Giving money to people on the street can sometimes make this harder and may result in the person staying on the street for longer.
Day Centres and Night Shelters
Another practical way you can support people off the street is by giving them information about local day and night shelters. Homeless Link have a great directory where you can search by location and type of service.
How else can you help?
Other ways to help include volunteering or donating to day centres, residential services and outreach teams. Larger homelessness charities such as St. Mungo’s, Shelter, and Crisis have several campaigns that you could get involved with, advocating for people who are disadvantaged and marginalised. For example, women fleeing abuse are not seen as ‘priority need’ and councils have no legal duty to house them, the government is reviewing the Domestic Abuse Bill and Crisis are campaigning for everyone who flees violence to have the right to a home. You can support their campaign here.
At the end of the day, the homelessness crisis is largely a result of structural inequalities and government policy so it can feel like you’re out of your depth when trying to help. But those stuck on our streets are just like you and me, they’re our teaching assistants and security guards, they’re people who have been forced unnecessarily into crisis and they deserve our respect and our help. This isn’t just their problem, it’s everyone’s problem and we must all take responsibility to help where we can.