Food, Money, Time? - Thinking beyond the cup of tea.

Anyone who works in the homeless sector will know that around this time of year homelessness charities get a massive upsurge of publicity and donations. Perhaps it’s because the general public are keen to induce some early Christmas cheer with their acts of goodwill, or maybe the effect of one-too-many post-halloween / pre-thanksgiving  drinks leaves people wanting to balance their karma before Father Christmas draws up his naughty list.

In reality, the answer is pretty obvious; It’s getting cold and homeless people live outside. As we crank up the heating in our living rooms and offices, it would be in-human not to think of those who have nowhere to go when the weather starts to turn.

However things aren’t really that simple. Not all homeless people live outdoors, in fact there’s a whole range of situations that fall under the term, beyond those who are rough-sleeping. I’ve outlined some below:

-  Houseless - Those living in sheds, cars and caravans.

-  Precariously Housed  - Those living in hostels, overcrowded accommodation, or with friends.

-  Hidden Homeless - Referring to those who do not engage with the council or government and remain unrecognised in official statistics.

-  Rural Homeless - Living away from cities and towns, again hard to track down and provide official statistics for.

-  Street Users - Who might beg or drink on the street during the day but return to shelters by night.

How then can people who want to help do the best thing for those in need? Well, many will say that when it comes to rough sleepers, the best help is given in the form of food and a warm drink, rather than cash - which might be used to fuel a drug or alcohol habit. This isn’t strictly true and the assumption that all rough sleepers are substance abusers is an inaccurate and worrying stereotype. Cash is often used to buy food, camping equipment, new clothes or a stay in a B&B, which many particularly vulnerable people prefer to specialist hostels. However, if you are unsure, the best thing to do is to ask the person what they could use, it might surprise you in what ways you could help. It could be anything from donating sanitary products and toiletries to providing some pet-food or blankets for their dog. If you are worried about the health of a rough-sleeper, or if they appear to be an asylum seeker or have recently been made homeless, the best thing to do is to make a report to http://www.streetlink.org.uk/ who are specially trained to connect rough sleepers with appropriate local services.

As for people who fall into the other circumstances outlined above, it’s my opinion that the best thing the general public can offer is time and awareness. This could take the form of volunteering at a local shelter or charity shop, or simply sharing online articles and petitions that give a voice to those who slip through the net of society. A good place to start  is www.crisis.org.uk, who have plenty of volunteering and fundraising opportunities, especially in the run-up to Christmas.

For the young people that Agitate works with, help could come in many forms. Housing provision for the young homeless in the UK is generally pretty good, although some are still left isolated in hotels or B&Bs when local services are full. What is really beneficial for young people is opportunities and mentoring. If you run a business, why not contact some local charities and see if you could offer some of the young people work-experience? Perhaps you coach a sports team that is looking for new young players who might struggle to approach a club by themselves? Alternatively, things like musical instruments and computers can give young people an important outlet for self-expression, which in turn can help them gain employment and self-sufficiency. A quick google search will throw up the contact details for all of the major youth-homelessness providers in your town or city.

So as we head towards Christmas, spare a couple of minutes to think about the best way to help those in need. Sometimes a box of McNuggets and a cup of tea is great, sometimes you might be able to change someone’s life by offering your skills, contacts and a couple of hours of your time.

If you’d like to speak more about how you can help the young people working with the Agitate Collective then drop me an email at mark@agitatemusic.com

- Mark