How do charities help those who are homeless and what can we do to help?

As the weather gets colder, we, as a society, tend to become more aware of rough sleepers and those with unstable shelter. At whatCharity.com, we wanted to find out more about the charities that work tirelessly year-round to support those in poverty and how the public can help. As part of our ‘Helping Homeless People’ campaign, we asked two charities to tell us about their work. Although The Big Issue Foundation and Doorstep Homeless Families Project both help those in poverty without a stable home, they take very different approaches, showing how diverse and complex this issue is. There are many different ways to help, and all of these ways can be incredibly valuable to those in need.

The Big Issue Foundation

Who does your charity help? What are some of the reasons for people losing their home? 

Over the last few years, we are evolving our traditional image as a ‘homelessness charity’ to a broader focus on helping people out of poverty. Poverty that creates disadvantages such as homelessness. This means that as well as supporting people who are sleeping rough, we also help adults who are sofa-surfing, living in overcrowded housing, living in squats, living in insecure or temporary accommodation, using foodbanks, facing eviction, long-term unemployed – anyone affected by poverty and who is selling The Big Issue magazine can be supported by TBIF.

Homelessness can be caused by a number of single or combined factors including poverty, unemployment, lack of affordable housing, poor physical or mental health, drug and alcohol abuse, gambling, family and relationship breakdown, and domestic violence.

What are the roles of the different players in our society when it comes to homelessness? 

 As the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports, over the last year at least 499 homeless people, probably more, died while homeless in the UK. We, as the public, need to play our role in pushing the government to deliver results. Challenge your local authority to find out what they’re planning to do to support the disenfranchised and others in need in your local community. It could not be simpler to agitate your MP, councillor or community leader. Find them at www.writetothem.com and tell them directly what you expect of them. Track their progress in parliament with www.theyworkforyou.com.

How can individuals and companies help you to help those who are homeless?

The best way you can help a Big Issue vendor is to buy the magazine. Vendors buy their magazines from The Big Issue for £1.25 each and sell them to their customers for £2.50 a time. They are working, not begging. That benefits the vendor and also ensures the magazine can continue to be there for other people who need the opportunity to get a hand up. The work of The Big Issue Foundation is not funded from sales of The Big Issue magazine, instead it is 99% funded through voluntary donations. It is only because of the generosity, commitment and belief of our supporters that we are able to do our work, which is to connect vendors with the specialist services and personal solutions that enable them to rebuild their lives.

You see a person begging for money on the street, she/he is visibly in quite bad shape and is asking for money. It is raining and the temperature is expected to drop below zero degrees. How to help?

One of the simplest and most effective ways to help rough sleepers and homeless people is just to have a chat to them. Not only does rough sleeping make day-to-day life incredibly difficult it’s also lonely, and Britain’s mental health crisis is prevalent on the streets too. Take a minute to ask how their day is going, and if there’s anything that need or want. You could be surprised. This is providing it is safe to do so – your safety is first.

To connect rough sleepers with services that can help in England and Wales, send an alert to Streetlink – an organisation that connects people living on the streets with local authority and outreach teams to get them support. In Scotland, services provided by charities such as Turning Point and Shelter Scotland also go a long way in helping homeless people.

Organisations like The Pavement, have a services and facilities directory you can search through to connect a rough sleeper or vulnerable person to, and you can search by city/geographical area (or any combination of these).

You could also always put a homeless people in touch with one of The Big Issue’s distribution offices all over the UK to give them a chance to get a hand up, not a hand out. They will then have the opportunity to be connected to services and support through The Big Issue Foundation.

Should I give food and drink?

Many rough sleepers will be appreciative of food or drink, especially in cold weather. But don’t assume it’s necessary. A hot drink will be welcomed by some, but it’s better to ask if they need anything specific.

What about clothing?

With the winter approaching, clothing donations can also be vital. Always ask the person whether they want the items. If it’s pouring with rain, then a spare umbrella will never go amiss. Otherwise, use Google to find your nearest clothing bank – and look up your nearest Wrap Up campaign, which provides coats to homeless people every winter.

 

 Doorstep

 Who does your charity help? What are some of the reasons for people losing their home? 

 We work to provide support services to homeless families. The majority of the families that we support are living in one or two rooms in hostels. Conditions can be very cramped with little privacy for family members or space for children to play.

Families can become homeless for a variety of reasons including family circumstances, illness, loss of employment, domestic violence, racial harassment and financial difficulties. Doorstep aims to assist these families by providing goods and services to make their lives more comfortable as they await a permanent housing solution.

What are the roles of the different players in our society when it comes to homelessness? 

There is still a lot of stigma attached to being homeless and people often feel very embarrassed about being in that circumstance. It is important to understand that being homeless is not a choice but the end result of a set of life circumstances/events. The role of the government is to address the chronic shortage of social housing and to make the alternative of renting in the private sector within reach of those on low incomes. As well as this, the government needs to provide funding for organisations who are working to support those who are homeless. Individuals can contact charities in their area who are supporting the homeless to see how they can help.

How can individuals and companies help you to help those who are homeless?

 Fundraising to help our charity and gifts in kind, of clothing and food are always welcome. You can also donate your time by volunteering. Alternatively, you can contact us to see what exactly what is needed at the time.

 You hear about a family being evicted from their home, whether you are a family member, friend or colleague. You are not sure of their circumstances, but you would like to help.

This really depends on the individual circumstances. Housing is the government’s responsibility, so first port of call should be to present themselves to the local council. You also need to bear in mind that local government policy around eligibility might mean that no help will be given. It is important that anyone threatened with eviction does not leave the property before receiving an eviction notice. To leave voluntarily, before receiving an eviction notice, can mean that the local authority decides you are “intentionally homeless” and that they have no duty to you.

 Donation/volunteering tips for the public

 At Doorstep we receive donations of gently used clothing, toys, books, baby equipment, homeware and more from the wider community, which families attending our centre can help themselves to. You can also enquire at our centre if there are any volunteering opportunities. Many charities have had their funding reduced or as in Doorstep’s case completely withdrawn. This means that charities with limited resources are forced to spend valuable time trying to raise funds to keep their services running.  

We would like to thank Vicky Fox from the Doorstep Homeless Families Project and Emma Cheung from The Big Issue Foundation for taking the time to answer our questions and providing their valuable insight.

whatCharity team

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