As the nights get colder and winter draws nearer, you might decide it’s time to turn on the heating. You grumble to your housemates about the cold, and you bicker about whose turn it is to pay the gas bill. At night, you decide to wrap yourself up in a duvet and fluffy blanket, wearing your dressing gown to bed. It’s so warm beneath the sheets that you don’t want to get out of bed when your alarm goes off in the morning. You have your routine. You might even long for the winter, with its cosy nights-in, hot chocolates and Christmas lights. But how many of us spare a thought for how we can help the homeless?
The reality of living on the streets is tragic. In 2018, 726 homeless people died in England and Wales, which is a 22% increase from the previous year. The threat of sleeping rough in the winter is no myth. On the streets of Birmingham in 2017, one man froze to death. It is horrific that we live in a world which allows people to fall into such tragic circumstances. It is a world where many of us ignore those who are begging for pennies, and cross the street to avoid the homeless man’s chatter.
The social issues that are responsible for homelessness cannot be solved quickly, but we can do our bit to offer as much help as possible
Homeless people are often outcast from society. They are treated without respect, without kindness, with hostility and with indifference. The homeless charity Crisis has revealed that homeless people are subject to verbal, physical and sexual abuse. One in 10 have been urinated on. How many of us stop to think that the homeless are, in many ways, just like us? We need to remember than homeless people are people. They are just people without homes.
Any one of us could find ourselves homeless at any time in our lives. Mental health problems, family circumstances, unemployment and reasons beyond our knowledge could cause someone to lose a home. We have no right to assume someone’s circumstances, and no right to judge someone without knowing those circumstances.
So much contradictory information surrounds how best to help the homeless, and there are no simple answers. Whether you should give money is a question that is continually debated, and your safety has to be a priority. The social issues that are responsible for homelessness cannot be solved quickly, but we can do our bit to offer as much help as possible.
Download StreetLink, head to their website or get in touch on the phone
One of the simplest ways to help the homeless is by using StreetLink – an app, website and phone service with which you can report the location of a homeless person and an outreach team will assess the individual’s situation and try to offer them support, such as by finding them temporary accommodation. If you are out in Coventry or Leamington, or anywhere for that matter, and you come across somebody sleeping rough, you can download Streetlink or get in touch via telephone.
Find the right information, and offer to share it
Homeless.org has a search engine of all the nearest available accommodations, short and long term, spanning the country. If you speak to someone who is living on the streets, or you know someone who is homeless, it can be helpful to offer this information if they are searching for shelter. The organisation offers an even more comprehensive list of all the winter shelters available from November 2019. These can cost between £2 and £20 a night. You might offer this small sum of money to someone who is looking for a warm place to sleep that night. In the depths of winter, giving them the information to know where to stay could save a life.
Volunteer with and support Leamington Night Shelter
Leamington Night Shelter offers not only a hot meal to homeless people, but also food parcels and a place to sleep. You could help Leamington Night Shelter by volunteering. From 9pm on Sunday and Wednesday nights, a team of volunteers offer company, a warm meal and shelter to those in need. If you don’t have the time to volunteer, you could always consider giving money to fund the shelter or donate non-perishable items. You can drop off items such as sugar, coffee, deodorant, gloves or tinned food at Radford Road Church at 8pm on Wednesdays and Sundays, heading through the right-hand door.
Give your help and time to Leamington Winter Shelter
Leamington Winter Shelter (LWS) was set up in the winter of 2015/2016 by two medical students at the University of Warwick. Their mission is “to provide a hot meal, a safe place to sleep and company for the homeless and vulnerably-housed members of the community in Leamington Spa and the wider area.” You can volunteer with LWS by cooking, collecting food deliveries or joining the team when they are open. A number of Warwick societies fundraise for LWS throughout the year, so be sure to get involved with running and attending charity events.
Get involved with Helping Hands Community Project
Another Leamington-based charity that is doing fantastic work to help the homeless and vulnerable people is Helping Hands Community Project. They run a soup kitchen, teach essential skills and run a ‘House2Home’ scheme, providing household items to people who cannot afford to furnish their new homes. As with both Leamington Night Shelter and Leamington Winter Shelter, you can both volunteer and make charitable donations. In Warwick, you can visit the Helping Hands Gateway Café on Wednesday to Friday between 10am and 3pm. The café is run by a team of volunteers, providing them with work experience, skills and a sense of community. Why not pop into the café one weekend?
Speak to homeless people, don’t treat them with indifference
Liverpool Echo published an incredibly insightful article where they sat down and spoke to homeless people. One of the most important points that the article flagged up is how important is that we do not ignore homeless people. Damien Black, a former shop worker who found himself without a roof over his head, said that “90% of people look through you – I’d rather be told to f*** off than to be ignored”.
We often ignore homeless people asking for money through guilt of having nothing to give them, or after being warned that the money will be spent on drugs and drink. You do not have to give money, but acknowledging their presence is important. Try to smile at them, look them in the eyes, and apologise that you don’t have any change. Treat them with respect.
Donate your winter clothing
This is a simple way to help the homeless. Donating clothes is something that any one of us can do. Why not initiate your own collection of second-hand warm-winter-woollies for those in need?
You can advertise your collection on your social media, asking your friends and family to donate anything from a pair of gloves to winter coats people don’t wear anymore. You can then donate these to shelters such as Leamington Night Shelter or charities such as the Salvation Army. Getting rid of the clothes you no longer wear is refreshing, and they will go to someone who needs them far more than you.
Offer food, bedding and hot drinks
You might want to ask the person if there is anything that they need, whether it’s help finding shelter, food or warm clothing. Whilst there is no clear answer on whether you should give money, you can directly help them by buying food, hot drinks and even bedding. If there is a 2-for-1 offer on hot drinks at your local café, get the spare and give it to someone in need. There may be instances where they don’t accept your offer, but don’t let that stop you from trying to help people. Everyone is different and has different needs, including homeless people.
Fundraise with societies and charities
You could choose a homeless charity such as St Mungo’s for your Raising and Giving (RAG) society. Why not organise a quiz or a bake sale to fundraise for the homeless? Joining St Mungo’s for their annual Woolly Hat Day collections in January is another rewarding way to help. The charity can provide you with accommodation for the night in London and food and drink on the day of the collection. You could even invite St Mungo’s to campus to speak about their work. They run personalised workshops for students, helping them to improve employability and fundraising skills.
Next time you’re walking the streets and come across somebody living rough, remember that even a small smile can go a long way in challenging the social alienation that homeless people battle every day. No one chooses to be homeless.