As temperatures drop and the nights grow darker, many of us will feel powerless to help the people we see sleeping rough on the streets: but there are things we can do. Here are nine ways you can make a small difference to a homeless person’s life this Christmas.
According to the most recent statistics from Shelter, there are currently at least 320,000 people without secure housing in the UK. In 2018, there were 726 deaths in the homeless community across England and Wales – a 22% increase on 2017. Since 2010, the number of people sleeping on the streets has increased by a shocking 169%. There’s simply no denying something needs to change.
But while, according to a survey conducted by Crisis, eight in 10 people say they are worried about homelessness in Great Britain, there’s still a lot of confusion when it comes to knowing how to help. And according to the figures released by Crisis, while two in three (65%) people feel they should help when they see someone who is homeless, more than three-quarters of people feel powerless to help people who are homeless. When asked why they don’t do something to help those they see on the streets, more than one in four (36%) of people admitted they didn’t always know what to do to help.
As the days continue to shorten and temperatures drop, it’s hard to imagine how tough it must be for those people without a roof over their heads, especially at Christmas time. And while the homelessness crisis may not be resolved for some time, there are things we can all do to help the battle against homelessness being fought by a handful of incredible charities and organisations across the UK, as well as providing immediate help to those people we encounter living on the streets.
“British people care about homelessness and they want to help, but uncertainty and nervousness are stopping them,” says Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis. “We all need the same basic things – shelter, food and being treated with dignity. Homelessness is incredibly isolating and lonely. Many people we work with tell us that not being acknowledged or treated as a fellow human being can be just as painful as the physical hardships.”
Alongside saying hello and engaging in conversation with the people we see on the streets, there are other immediate ways to help the homeless this Christmas, especially as temperatures drop and conditions become increasingly dangerous. Here are just nine ways you can make a difference this festive season.
1. Call 999 if you have immediate concerns about their welfare, or believe the person to be under 18
If you’re concerned about the welfare of a homeless person because they’re injured or seriously ill, for example, take immediate action and contact the emergency services on 999.
Similarly, if you believe a homeless person to be under the age of 18, contact the emergency services to ensure they’re given immediate help by the local council, who will find them a suitable place to stay.
2. Contact StreetLink (in England and Wales)
StreetLink is an incredible charity operating in England and Wales which helps to link people with homelessness services in their local area.
Reporting a person sleeping rough to StreetLink couldn’t be easier – just visit their website or app and fill in a few details to help locate the homeless person you’ve encountered. These details are then sent to a local authority or outreach service in the area you’ve seen the person to help them track down the person in question and connect them with an appropriate form of support.
The only information you need to report a person to StreetLink is the specific location you saw the person, the time at which you saw them and details about their appearance.
3. Ask if there is anything they need
People living on the streets often find themselves without the basics they need to get by, so asking whether you can get them anything can be a great help. Whether it’s something as simple as hot food or a drink, or something a bit bigger like a new blanket, a pair of thick socks or even some dog food for their companion, these items will make an immediate difference to someone’s day.
4. Fund a place at a Christmas centre
Every year Crisis opens its doors to thousands of people at their Christmas centres, which provide a lifeline to people without a home during the festive period. As well as offering immediate relief in the form of warm food, shelter and various health and wellbeing services, the centres introduce the guests to Crisis’ year-round services so they can be supported in leaving homelessness for good.
For £28.87 you can fund one place at a Christmas centre to help someone dealing with homelessness this December.
5. Call the Centrepoint Helpline (or pass on the number)
As the UK’s leading youth homelessness charity, Centrepoint provides a free helpline which offers advice to any young person aged 16-25 who may be homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. It’s also available for people who are worried about a young person they know, and is open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm at 0808 800 0661.
You can also make a donation to Centrepoint to help them continue to provide their amazing services: just £18 could give a young homeless person a warm, safe room, a hot meal and support in rebuilding their life.
6. Get in touch with your local council and ask about SWEP
SWEP stands for Severe Weather Emergency Protocol and refers to a system run by local councils which provides emergency support for rough sleepers when temperatures become particularly cold by providing extra beds in night shelters, as well as a range of other services.
If you’re worried about a person you see sleeping on the streets, it’s worth giving your local council a call and checking whether SWEP is in operation and how people living on the streets can access the extra support. You can then pass that information on to the individual you’ve met.
7. Refer them to a day centre
Day centres can offer support to homeless people in the form of a hot meal and access to showers and laundry facilities.
Although there are a limited number of day centres available, you can check the nearest one to you using Homeless Link’s directory or by calling the Centrepoint Helpline on 0808 800 0661.
8. Fund the important work of outreach programmes such as Passage
Outreach programmes such as the one run by London-based charity Passage send members of their team out on to the streets to meet with homeless people and assist them in accessing appropriate services to try and get them off the streets.
By donating to Passage you can help them to continue this important work and look for more innovative ways to reach out the vulnerable people on the streets.
9. Shop at a start-up that gives back
Social impact start-up Unhoused allows you to give back while you shop. For every item you buy through the Unhoused website – which sells basics such as socks, blankets and underwear – the start-up will donate one item to someone living on the streets. It’s an easy way to do your bit this Christmas – and you can even pay to remotely donate items such as a sanitary kit, phone top-ups and emergency foil blankets.
Images: Tom Parsons on Unsplash/Getty