We often refer to the ‘poverty-trap’ or ‘homeless-trap’, a reference describing how people suffering the consequences of homelessness are so consumed ‘fire-fighting’ their circumstances i.e. finding food to eat and a safe place to shelter in order to simply survive, that they lose the capability of sourcing and tapping into the support infrastructures that exist to help them overcome their situations. Homelessness can quickly lead to a loss of skills, extensive health problems and a lack of self-esteem.
This principle is true and we all have a responsibility to be empowered with relevant and helpful information to provide people, especially rough sleepers with what can be life saving support. It can be as simple as making a phone call on behalf of the person which leads to them being connected with professional advisors and support to help them overcome their circumstances.
We have all faced the dilemma when faced with homeless people who are asking for money as to what emotionally and morally we should do as a form of response. Shall I offer cash? Am I better buying them a sandwich and drink so they don’t abuse the cash? Further questions can come to mind such as: Am I giving to appease myself, so I feel like I have done something good? Am I actually helping by responding to a rough sleeper in this way or am I actually helping them to sustain their homelessness? It can be a moral dilemma for us all when in such a situation.
Personally, over the years I have given cash, food and drink to homeless people as well as handed out clothes and sleeping bags but now I try to provide help in a more constructive manner.
The Big Change Manchester campaign (#BigChangeMcr) exists to provide a more helpful way for the general public to support the homeless community rather than us all operating autonomously, doing our own thing. The website streetsupport.net provides a centralised method through which you can donate money or offer your time as a volunteer to homeless groups in Greater Manchester. Streetsupport provides practical ways you can help homeless people in a joined-up way including providing sleeping bags and underwear, to becoming a night shift volunteer on the streets and in night shelters. By providing support via a recognised homeless support mechanism you can become part of a mutual aid network that truly operates to end homelessness.
Directly offering homeless people food, drink or cash may seem like a good thing to do but you can focus your sympathy and desire to help in a much more constructive way. Rather than buying a sandwich from a shop and encouraging them to continue sitting on the floor, provide them with information about local drop-in centres where they can receive a hot meal and drink as well as being connected with an agency that can help them overcome their situations at the same time. Many rough sleepers have lost the ability to think strategically due to their more pressing needs and have become simply focused on how to survive the next few hours without getting physically abused. This way of thinking restricts their ability to plan ahead and to help themselves. This is where you can help.
The only way you can ultimately help the homeless community is by taking the time to become educated in the homeless support mechanisms and organisations that exist. This way you can become part of the solution for people caught in the ‘homeless trap’ as opposed to helping sustain them in their current situation. Below you will find some contact information that I encourage you to investigate enabling you to become equipped to know how to best respond when you find yourself in a situation to help a homeless person. Add these contacts to your phone:
Street Link 0300 500 0914 // www.streetlink.org.uk Help connect rough sleepers to local services
StreetSupport www.streetsupport.net // #BigChangeMcr A network of charity and voluntary groups working to end homelessness
Homeless Link www.homeless.org.uk A database of organisations working directly with homeless community