There’s never a good time to be homeless but the wind, rain and freezing cold of winter are more likely to increase awareness of people living on the streets.
It’s a subject that is featured more in the news as temperatures plummet and everyone’s planning to eat, drink and be merry over the festive season.
Of course, homelessness can be dangerous to health and wellbeing at any time of the year.
The immediate response we have when we see someone bedding down on the streets is to give them some money, but that’s not the only way you can help.
There are also other ways to make a homeless person feel better. Some won’t even cost you anything and may even be more sustainable.
Here are just a few ways you can help:
- Stop and talk
Making eye contact and having a chat can be a simple thing to do but it may make a homeless person feel more connected and human. By stopping and talking you can show you care.
- Alert StreetLink
If you see someone over the age of 18 sleeping rough and want to make sure they are OK, you can contact StreetLink by visiting streetlink.org.uk, via the mobile app (available for Apple and Android devices), or by calling 0300 500 0914.
Once StreetLink receives details about the person, they’ll inform the local authority or outreach service for the area. They will then contact the person sleeping rough and give them access to support.
- Donate clothing or personal hygiene items
Shelters always need donations of clothing such as clean socks, underwear, and personal toiletry items. Why not ramp up your efforts using social media to tell friends what you’re doing and volunteer to bring over any items that others may want to donate?
- Become a fundraiser
Fundraising for a chosen homeless charity is one way to ensure their work continues. GoFundMe, Just Giving and other online sites can help you maximise your fundraising and help to create awareness of their work. Some charities, such as Centrepoint which provides support specifically for young homeless people, are looking for long-term solutions and are forging relationships with influential people as part of their Growth Board initiative in a bid to end youth homelessness by 2037. Fundraising is key to its strategy for building affordable housing that will help take young people off the streets for good.
- Volunteer to help
Most homeless shelters or charities will welcome volunteers. It may be that you have a special skill that can make a difference. Charities are always looking for regular volunteers who can use their skills to help the homeless. For example, fundraising, teaching, computer skills, cooking, driving, advice sessions and more.
- Donate to a homeless charity
Donating, however small, will help charities fund emergency accommodation and provide other services that can lead to long term solutions. Centrepoint, for example, uses donations to support homeless young people by getting them off the streets, back into education, or into an apprenticeship and any treatment they need for health and welfare.
- Prevent people from becoming homeless
Do you know someone who is at risk of homelessness due to the threat of eviction by landlords or because of relationship breakdown? There are organisations out there that can help. Urge them to contact the likes of Shelter, Centrepoint, and Citizen’s Advice or google ‘homelessness’ on your local council’s website.
- Help canine friends
Often a homeless person’s closest companion is their dog. You can alleviate their anxiety around caring for their canine friend by donating food and also by putting the them in touch with the Dog’s Trust which runs the Hope Project – an initiative providing free and subsidised veterinary treatment to dogs whose owners are homeless or in housing crisis.
- Pay it forward
Thrusting a sandwich and a drink into the hands of a homeless person can be perceived as patronising, so if you want to buy someone something to eat why not pay it forward? Give money to a local café, and then a homeless person can go along and choose food and drink that you’ve paid for in advance.
- Learn about homelessness
Dispel any stereotypes you may have and make contact with homeless people in your community. They are people just like you and by learning more about homelessness you may be able to help them find a way out of their situation.