This week’s weather in the UK heralds some of the bleakest nights and coldest days so far this winter. Snow and freezing conditions will mean outside temperatures will be below freezing. This seems all the more harsh to comprehend if you imagine what it must be like to be sleeping outside, every night.
I recently met a homeless man in the course of my work and was able to provide some help. It started me thinking how does somebody end up on the streets?
My first introduction to homelessness as a child was reading about A bear called Paddington by Michael Bond. He arrived in London as an orphan from Peru. For Paddington his story had a happy ending finding a family to live with in Windsor Gardens. But this is not the case for so many people forced into poverty and homelessness.
I’ve read some true life stories recently and found them distressing. People from all walks of life; families, older people and individuals find themselves without food and shelter, often through a chain of adverse events.
A London based family home is made unliveable through fire damage, the family are left with nowhere to live. The council operates a system for allocating emergency housing and they cannot provide any accommodation. This leaves them living in temporary accommodation. It means a family of four have to share a one bedroom flat for months.
One older couple in the news recently, were made homeless due to a caravan they had been living in having a broken sewage pipe. They have been living in their car for nine weeks since.
When I was young I remember seeing a few people who were homeless, but it was very rare. If you visit any large town or city in Britain at the moment, particularly London, you will see someone who is sleeping rough. In many parts of the UK, homelessness and poverty are rising at an alarming rate.
In my home town the locals have set up a night shelter for the homeless, it gives rough sleepers a safe warm bed and provides a hot meal. It’s staffed by volunteers and funded by voluntary donations. We also have a food bank supported by volunteers and charity donations.
During the summer I was shocked to hear about local children from low income families who don’t have enough to eat during the summer holidays. They usually have free school meals but during the long summer break they suffer hunger, isolation and physical inactivity.
A local scheme took place to address this but it was shocking to find out that a relatively rich area has children who go hungry. Child poverty exists in the least obvious places; just around the corner in fact.
Homelessness puts individuals in danger, causes many to become isolated and ruins lives. In many cases the cause is a shortage of affordable housing, funding cuts and low wages.
The next time you see a homeless person in the street and walk past. Put yourself in their shoes for a moment, imagine what it might be like.
How can we help the homeless?
If you are concerned about someone you have seen sleeping rough, it’s important to alert the authorities fast. Contact Streetlink they can connect the public to the right local services to get a homeless person help.
If it is an emergency situation call 999 in the UK.
Becoming homeless can happen to anyone, for a range of reasons. Be respectful of them. Donate, volunteer help, educate others.
Your local council have a duty to help someone who is homeless but in practice this can be tricky proving eligibility.
The Citizens Advice Bureau CAB staffed mostly by volunteers, can also give information about housing and debt advice.