Six things I’ve learnt working on a rough sleepers project

We’re all hearing about it and many of us are seeing more of more of it on the streets across Britain. Yes, tragically, homelessness is on the rise across the UK. Tents, sleeping bags, duvets, people in crisis… Everyone’s seen the dramatic increase in rough sleepers across the country.

According to Homeless Link, around 4,134 people sleep rough every night in England alone. This figure in fact marks an 134% increase since the change in UK government in 2010. In London, that’s an increase from around 400 to almost 1,000 people. Here in the capital we currently have the highest number of rough sleepers across England. It’s truly shocking.

Yet the crisis doesn’t only affect those sleeping rough. There’s also the “invisible homeless” – men, women and children sleeping on friends’ sofas, living in and out of temporary accommodation and with no home to call their own.

Across London, there are a variety of organisations working to provide shelter, food and clothing to people in crisis. One of these is Feeding Folk (Peace by Piece) – an interfaith food programme based at West London Synagogue which brings together Muslims and Jews to cook a hearty hot meal for rough sleepers across London.

Distributing meals across central London, this is what I’ve witnessed and learnt and what I think everyone should know.

1. It costs less than £1 to feed a homeless person a complete hot meal

For a third of the cost of a take-out coffee, you can provide a hot meal, drink, piece of fresh fruit and a snack. The cost is minimal. Yet what is the social and human cost of homelessness? From 2001 to 2009, 1,731 of recorded deaths were traced to homeless people. As temperatures drop during winter, people are especially vulnerable to contracting pneumonia and hypothermia. The government needs to put more money, time and effort in to solve this crisis.

2. The less you have the more you give

The people I’ve met only take food when they’re hungry. If they’ve eaten they’ll be eager for you to to save the food for someone else. Sharing is caring as they say. The saying really is true: the less you have the more you give.

3. Life on the streets truly is hell

It goes without saying that living on the streets is a nightmare but if you could read some of the messages that people write and see what these people are going through… “Hell” was the worst description I have ever seen written.

4. Never underestimate the companionship an animal can bring

Many of us know the joy a pet can bring. Living on the streets is a lonely experience and a pet can bring much-needed comfort. One night we met a man who had recently lost his dog. For him, his dog was his best friend and his life companion. He was “not just a dog”. Housing providers need to understand that a man and his dog come as a pair – they’ll not be separated. Everybody deserves someone and everybody also deserves a home.

5. Almost very single person is grateful

Whatever (little) time, skills or resources you can offer – give them. Every bit will make a difference. To see people heartwarmed or even shocked and surprised at receiving a small meal shows that there is so much more to do. We need to change these heartbreaking trends.

6. Just because someone is sleeping rough doesn’t mean they don’t work

I’ve met people sleeping rough who work and know of many others. Sleeping rough has many causes and contributing factors. Some people lack the funds and/or legal status to rent accommodation after arriving in the UK, whilst for others sleeping rough has been a long-term reality. Do not presume that because someone is sleeping rough, that they have no will, no ambition or no interest in life. In any case, if they didn’t, they’d need emotional and social support.

Take action

Addiction, domestic abuse, financial hardship – there are many reasons why people end up on the streets but one thing is clear: it’s so easy to slip through the net.

It’s time that we raise our voices and tell politicians that this has to end. Write to your local MP and call on them to address the issue.

It’s super easy. Simply:

  1. Look up their contact details here
  2. Download my letter template text and edit the message (stats for your area can be found here)
  3. Copy the text in the webpage above and send!

If you hear back from your MP, then do drop me a line and feedback to me!

So, until next time,

Salam, shalom, peace ♡

Credits

Image credit: Eflon (CC BY 2.0)

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