Walking through town this morning and bracing myself against the cold (apparently the coldest day of the year today, and snow coming later this afternoon), I couldn’t help but notice how many rough sleepers were sitting or lying on the pavement, trying to bundle themselves up against the freezing temperatures. Five alone, in one small section of the town. I gave them what I could and came home worrying about how they will cope later today and tonight when the snow comes.
Homelessness is the scourge of our modern twenty first century society. People are either disgusted by it, or refuse to even consider it, preferring to believe that the people sleeping rough on our streets have somehow ‘brought it upon themselves.’ I remember being with a work colleague walking through Bournemouth some years ago and stopping to buy a copy of the Big Issue. My college looked horrified and whispered “WHY would you do that? Surely you are just encouraging them….” That sort of attitude, unfortunately, is still prevalent and people convince themselves that they don’t need to help as it is someone else’s problem.
I spoke to ’Benjy’ this morning who was one of the five I met today in town. He seemed happy to chat to me and following my asking if he was able to get to somewhere warm tonight, he started telling me about his life and how he had come to be in this situation. A situation he felt was, very much, a temporary one. He has had a very difficult couple of years following a drink driving charge, which had left him without a licence and consequently, without a job. Later, he suffered a marital breakup and now no longer sees his children. “I’m invisible now,” he said, “but I’m not giving up yet.”
The UK has a widespread homeless problem and successive governments have had little, or no effect on the continually growing numbers. I read a BBC News article online about Helsinki where homelessness was a huge issue twenty years ago, but it has since almost been eradicated. How did they do it? The Finnish government introduced the “Housing First” policy. Rough sleepers are prioritised on the housing list and then given assistance to find employment, training or further education. Simple? The UK government have a different way of dealing with these issues in that a rough sleeper is not given help automatically in this way, but has to go through a number of hoops, referrals and registrations via hostels and agencies.
The present UK government has promised to try to eradicate homelessness by 2027. This policy with a £100m budget will involve local authorities, charities and the central government working together to promote homeless people having access to housing and health. That is certainly welcome and hopeful.
If you are interested in the UK statistics, Crisis (the homeless charity), inform us that the average person living on the streets dies by the age of 47. Anyone rough sleeping is nearly 20 times more likely to be physically attacked and more than than two thirds regularly report being kicked or punched. Furthermore, homeless people are also nearly ten times more likely to attempt suicide. In 2018, nearly 5000 people were sleeping on the streets every night and worryingly, Rough sleeping is up 165% since 2010.
Only last night in Coventry, a homeless man was deliberately set alight by a gang. What can cause a human to react to another human in this way? Is this an outlet for our guilt …Or just meaningless, faceless hatred directed at the weakest people who cannot protect themselves?
“Homeless people are vulnerable, not criminal. The law is 200 years out of date…. My private member’s bill would end the archaic and shameful Vagrancy Act. It has no place in a compassionate society”
Layla Morgan – Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon
Crisis have an ‘Everybody In’ campaign which is trying to raise awareness and make sure that homelessness remains an absolute priority for our government. The campaign has a lot of celebrity support (Tom Hardy, Jodie Whittaker, Richard Gere to name a few) and strives to raise awareness and make rough sleeping a thing of the past by campaigning for continued government action. Watch the powerful film on their site and listen to the moving poem.
The issue has even made the BBC news this evening with reporters out on the streets interviewing rough sleepers. (Presumably as it is expected to be the coldest night of the year.) Perhaps this will raise awareness which is so lacking, because some of the comments made are heartbreaking:
”Rough Sleeping? You don’t really sleep do you? It’s just cat naps…. I’m just waiting to die”
If you want to do something about this and help people get off the streets, please consider any/all of the following:
Buy The Big Issue. The magazine launched in 1991 and offers the homeless a”leg up, not a handout” in that it promotes self help though trading. Sellers buy the magazine at half the price they then sell it for.
Contact Streetlink where people are on the streets in extremes of weather. It’s purpose is to put homeless people in contact with their local council and outreach services, which can provide immediate help. Contact phone neumbers are listed at the end of this post.
Crisis suggest offering gifts such as blankets or warm clothing, like hats, scarfs, socks or gloves or even just a cup of tea and a sandwich.
Volunteer at your local homeless shelter.
Donate to the homeless charities monthly. (Not just when it’s cold!)
If the person has dog don’t forget the Hope Project which offers free vet help to dogs belonging to homeless people.
Above all….Don’t close your eyes and persuade yourself it’s someone else’s problem. We are all aware of this issue ….and we all need to take a degree of responsibility to make it a thing of the past. Have you heard the saying ‘Any one of us is three pay cheques away from being out on the street?’ Perhaps that person on the street corner that you avoid looking at as you hurry past, is not so far removed from you after all. ❤️
Helpful numbers and Contacts:
Tel: 0300 636 1967
Crisis are always looking for new volunteers either as a group of people from a a company or individually. Although it is very popular to volunteer with Crisis at Christmas, don’t forget homelessness is a year round problem.
0300 330 1234 or firstname.lastname@example.org
You can donate, take part in a event or raise money on behalf of Shelter. They have a ‘Skyscraper Challenge’ this year if you are a thrill seeker!
0808 800 0661
Centrepoint offers homeless young people accommodation, physical and mental health support, and skills and advice to help them back into education, employment and training.If you’re rough sleeping, sofa surfing or don’t feel safe in your home, the Centrepoint Helpline is there to support you. You can also get in touch if you’re worried about a young person. Call the Centrepoint Helpline free on 0808 800 0661 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm).
The Hope Project (Dogs Trust)
Helping dogs whose owners are homeless or in housing crisis. They can help with vets bills, access to hostels and finding accommodation.
Dogs Trust Hope Project
17 Wakley Street
T: 020 7837 0006
F: 020 7833 8798