Today I visited the two cities nearest to me to see Star Wars (amazing), have some lunch (delightful), and do a little Christmas shopping (manic). Every corner we turned, every street, every arcade, tents, cardboards and sleeping bags lined the floors. Hands were being held out, in both hope and fear of the next passer-by. Why fear? Because of the stories that they have heard and, even worse, the things that they had seen. Their fellow human beings had been spat at, attacked, set on fire in their tents or had their things stolen. Hostels require a deposit and a key collection fee, otherwise the room (and these themselves are gold dust) are given to the next available person. Most charities that are able to offer food and warm drinks can’t afford to operate 7 days a week, often leaving people cold and hungry.
This isn’t a post to make you feel guilty, but this situation breaks my heart every day. The city that I study in is the same, my home town the same, with ever increasing numbers finding themselves on the street. The Big Issue estimates that around 320,000 people will be sleeping rough over Christmas, with usage of temporary accommodation up by 75% since 2010.
So what can we do?
One really amazing resource is Streetlink (https://www.streetlink.org.uk/StreetLinkMainMenu) where, if you meet someone who is sleeping rough, you can let the charity know and they will send out someone to make contact with them. This person will then make connections to local authorities, find them hostel space, and build a relationship with them so that they know that they’re not alone. This service operates all over the UK and you can make contact through their app, website or via phoning 0300 500 0914. The more information that you have, the better they can find them, so if you have a conversation, try and find out if they stay in that spot. Then, when using the website or app, you can use the pin to give their exact location. There is also a box to give a description of them so that the Streetlink workers can find the person more easily.
You can also donate to support Streetlink on their Just Giving page: https://donate.justgiving.com/donation-amount?uri=aHR0cHM6Ly9kb25hdGUtYXBpLmp1c3RnaXZpbmcuY29tL2FwaS9kb25hdGlvbnMvYmVhMzg4NjE0NDM5NDk5Yzk4MWRkNjAxMTM3OTAxM2M=
The Big Issue is a brilliant way for people to make enough money to feed themselves and get a space in the hostels. With that space comes an address which allows the individual to apply for jobs, register with GPs and pharmacies, as well as providing safety. Once the individual has a job, they could (hopefully) begin renting somewhere, allowing that hostel space to be freed for someone else. The Christmas issue is £2.50, which is less than most cups of coffee these days, plus there are great stories inside, from interviews with Jodie Whittaker to reviews of the best books of the year!
Let’s get political
The increase of homelessness correlates directly to the Tory government’s increase of austerity, cuts of local authority services and introduction of Universal Credit. Recently, we lost at one of our chances to make a systematic change by removing the Conservatives from power. However, this does not mean that we have no hope of doing so in the future. During this election, many were blinded by the neon sign of Brexit and a caricature of Corbyn, meaning that the Tories took many seats that are usually Labour. These same seats are some of the places worst stricken with poverty, in need of benefits and with the highest rates of homelessness. Next time the vote comes around, the people in need HAVE to be at the forefront of everyone’s mind. It should not be the sole responsibility of the general public to save the lives of each other. The government needs to step up.
If you’re fortunate enough to be able to afford an extra carton of longline juice, one more box of cereal or a box of tea, please consider buying one and donating to your local food bank. January will be hard for many families and individuals, with seasonal workers being laid off, a decrease in the public’s ability to donate and the onslaught of worse weather. Food banks are currently keeping far too many families alive, which is yet another reason that we NEED a systematic change.
There are far too many problems and far too many wrongdoings in this country to list all the possible solutions. The biggest point I want to make is that the system needs to change, but until then, if you can give out coffee, or knit a hat, if you can call an authority or volunteer your time, please do it. Until our government will, we need to take care of each other.