We’re sure you’ve noticed the steady rise of rough sleepers on the streets in passing years.
Recent figures show an increase of 169% since 2010 in the UK alone. That’s a genuinely shocking number.
And yet, despite how visible rough sleeping is, and with 61% of us upset about homelessness in this country, we don’t really know what we can do to help.
In reality, there are loads of different ways you can do your bit to help the homeless. Here are just five examples of the kinds of things you can do:
1. Connect them with local services
One of the most important things you can do to help someone sleeping rough is to connect them with local outreach services through the StreetLink App.
When referring someone, you’ll be asked to provide the specific location of the individual, the time at which you saw them at that location and details about their appearance.
If you believe that someone is in need of urgent medical attention or you think that they may be under the age of 18, then Streetlink advises contacting 999 for further assistance.
If you want to go further, consider volunteering at the StreetLink hotline to provide practical support to rough sleepers and be part of the response.
2. Buy them something they really need
A lot of people have varying opinions on whether or not you should give money directly to the homeless. Whatever your opinion, there are loads of way to impact a homeless person’s life directly, whether that’s by helping them stay warm in the winter or funding their rent deposit.
For example, rather than sell your unwanted clothes on eBay, why not donate warm clothing or blankets to homeless people that are useful when temperatures drop? There are many drop off points in the cities: find a Shelter shop or Salvation Army clothing bank. Or why not donate some smart clothing to help a struggling person back into employment?
Feeling a little more tech-savvy? As an alternative to donating your possessions, you can now buy items for the homeless online – check out CRACK + CIDER, the online shop for the homeless. Or Jollie Socks.
For many homeless people, their pet is their main source of companionship. If you’re at a nearby shop, buying a homeless person some food is great; but also buying food for their dog is that much more thoughtful. You can also buy stuff for homeless people’s dogs through the charity, Dogs on The Streets (DOTS).
Given the concern over the growing lack of spare change and the impact that will have on those in need, a start-up founded by Alex McCallion, Greater Change, proposes an innovative solution: a mobile donation system that is able to provide rent deposits, identification documents and skills courses through contactless payment for those in need.
Check out BEAM as well while you’re at it. They also use crowdfunding to help homeless people raise money for training courses and professional qualifications – then support each individual through training and into work.
3. Four ways to volunteer
Many of the national charities such as St Mungos, Crisis, or Shelter provide opportunities to use your skills and interests to volunteer your time to help the homeless. From yoga, art and cooking all the way to direct outreach support, there’s loads of ways to help.
But there’s also lots of small charities in different areas doing great things: for example, you could volunteer to become a Magpie MoM to help struggling mums with under-fives in temporary accommodation in Stratford.
Or go further than that: cook up a storm by starting your own Street Kitchen. All you need is a few volunteers, spare kitchen space and surplus food. Or check out FoodCycle, a charity that cooks community meals across the country for those in need.
4. Lobby local and national government
From the lack of social housing, and the distorted private renting sector, to mental health and addiction, rough sleeping is a problem that cuts across many issues.
There’s a lot that needs to change to prevent vulnerable people from sleeping rough in the first place; including reforming prisoner release and the de-mobilisation of ex-servicemen; fighting against the benefits freeze; building more social housing, and much more.
As good a place to start as any is to sign Shelter’s petition to demand more social housing.
It has recently been revealed that lettings agencies – such as Ludlow Thompson – often advise landlords to reject tenants that are on housing benefits. Already struggling with housing costs as rents have outstripped wages, renters on housing benefit are being denied their right to find a home, pushing people closer to homelessness. Ludlow Thompson will only stop this unacceptable behaviour if enough of us put pressure on it to change. To find out more, click here.
5. Be a human
One of the simplest thing you can do to help a homeless person is to stop for a chat. Taking the time to be friendly to a homeless person can make a massive difference, compared to the amount of people that ignore them on a daily basis.