Transforming the Streets

Transforming the Streets

January 20, 2020

A severe housing crisis now exists in Britain, with truly devastating effects. Rough sleeping (people sleeping in open air or buildings not designed for habitation) has reached a critical point, with roughly 4600 people sleeping rough on any given night in autumn 2018. This number represents a 165% increase in the number of people sleeping rough since 2010, although the actual number is likely much higher. Indeed, walk into any town or city centre and you will see a familiar scene; doorways and benches concealing a figure shrouded in sleeping bags and blankets, or people begging for money on the pavement who are largely ignored by people walking past.

 

These scenes are visible and visceral reminders that we live in an unequal society where people can slip out of the state safety net and onto the street. Indeed, people sleeping rough are often victims of a complex combination of poorly designed policies, an out-of-control housing market and damaging personal circumstances such as mental health issues or domestic violence. In such a context, it may seem like there is little we can personally do to help end rough sleeping.

Young people are in an ideal position to play a leading role in helping to end rough sleeping for good.

Young people often possess the passion, ingenuity and social consciousness necessary to help people sleeping rough, and crucially to lobby to remove the barriers facing those people in accessing help. Here are five actions you can do to help people sleeping rough:

  1. Donate: If you have the funds, you can donate to national homelessness charities such as Shelter (https://england.shelter.org.uk/donate) and Crisis (https://www.crisis.org.uk/get-involved/donate/) who provide advice and support services. You can also locate local homelessness services and donate to them using this finder tool: https://www.homeless.org.uk/homeless-england/search-near-me

 

  1. Engage: The Bowery Mission notes that ‘homelessness brings a sense of loneliness that erodes the core of a person’s self-value’. If possible, acknowledge and talk to a person sleeping rough to show they are not alone. If you are feeling generous, you can give gifts such as blankets, warm clothing, food or a hot drink. You can also report people sleeping rough to charity Streetlink (https://www.streetlink.org.uk/) via the website or mobile app who will send outreach workers to help them access support services.

 

  1. Volunteer: You can spare your time to volunteer for services that help to support people sleeping rough through advice, provision of food and night shelters. This could include volunteering at a local soup kitchen, night shelter or a charity initiative such as ‘Crisis at Christmas’. Here is a national list of homelessness charities that rely on volunteers: http://www.streetsoflondon.org.uk/volunteer

 

  1. Raise awareness: Social media and public campaigning can be powerful tools for change. Get online and show public support for campaigns run by homelessness charities, such as the abolishment of the Vagrancy Act to end the criminalisation of rough sleeping. You can also get involved in local campaigning (such as joining a local ‘sleep out’) to raise awareness and money for homelessness.

 

  1. Show leadership: Finally, you can champion your own local action with likeminded people to help homeless people in your area. You can follow the example of social initiatives such as ‘take one, leave one’ (https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/opendemocracyuk/take-one-leave-one-new-way-to-help-rough-sleepers/), who provide clothes and food to people sleeping rough. The Uprising Leadership Programme can be a great help to develop the necessary skills, knowledge and self-belief to undertake this kind of social action. 

 

Now you know all the different ways you can help people sleeping rough, it is time to get out there and start promoting change. If everyone helped in some small way, we could make the national tragedy of street homelessness what it should always have been; a thing of the past.

Michael Woodland is an Uprising Alumni (2018-2019) and works in a local authority homelessness department in North London.