“People don’t give me money because they just think I’ll spend it on crack and cider.”
That's what one rough sleeper told Charley Cramer and Scarlett Montanaro.
While most people would say they are moved by the plight of rough sleepers, many say they simply don’t know how to help. The perpetuation of the stereotype of the alcoholic or drug-addicted homeless person, who will simply spend any money on feeding their vice, means many passersby are reluctant to hand over cash.
This is exactly how Cramer and Montanaro felt while on a trip to Berlin - but such concerns would ultimately go on to lend their name to a new way to help the homeless.
Cramer, 25, told The Huffington Post UK: “We were in Berlin when someone asked us for money and we just said no and walked by. Afterwards we went for a coffee and started talking about it, when we found ourselves thinking about why we didn’t give that person money. We began talking about the people we see in our community back home that we care about and feel compassion towards, recognised that it’s a huge problem in London, Berlin and lot of other cities and then we started investigating why this problem exists. That people care about the issue but they’re not doing anything to remedy it because they don’t know how.
“Every day it’s the same people that you walk past and you feel empathy and you care but equally you don’t do anything to help because you worry about what the money will be spent on and are you really doing the right thing. It’s just easier to block it out.
“On the other hand, people also aren’t giving money to big charitable organisations because on the flip side it feels impersonal, there’s no human interaction.”
It was out of this - and after a conversation with a rough sleeper who told them why people were reluctant to give him money - that Crack + Cider was born.
The initiative’s pop-up shop, situated in Hackney in east London, and website, contains items recommended as particularly useful by organisations which work with homeless people: hats, gloves, socks, fleece jumpers, backpacks, umbrellas and military grade waterproof jackets.
Shoppers pay for their selected items but instead of taking anything away, Crack + Cider will then purchase and deliver them to rough sleepers in capital in time for Christmas.
The project is not-for-profit and any extra money made is simply spent on more items.
Of course, the most attention-grabbing thing about Crack + Cider is its name. Cramer and Montanaro explained that, although they were initially worried, the moniker had exactly the intended effect.
Cramer said: “By having this name - and obviously on one side we do have people worrying about whether it’s insensitive or unnecessary - it’s actually been such a driving force and enabled us to have a very frank, powerful conversation.
Montanaro, 26, added: “It’s riled people. It’s got people talking about us in a very frank and honest way, which is the whole point really.
“We’re not beating around the bush, we’re talking about an awful and serious issue and we’re going to talk about it in an interesting way to see if it gets a different reaction about the issue - and it has.”
Unsurprisingly, the pair were hit by trolls when they first announced the name.
Montanaro said: “We were panicking about the name, we were panicking about whether it would actually help. And in the first week we had a lot of trolling and we were thinking ‘this is terrible, what have we done?’.
“Trolls were getting onto our LinedkIns, finding out where we live, where we work. We were worried that not only had we offended everybody in both the homeless and non-homeless community, but we were also putting ourselves in danger. But thankfully that’s all died right down now.”
She continued: “One guy who had survived three winters homeless in London said that we would have been a God-send if we were were around then. We just though ‘fine, everything we’ve done, the hours, the stress, the trolls - is worth it.”
The pair are aware that the initiative is not addressing the root causes of the problem, but they are happy just to be helping in some way, however small.
Montana explained: “We came up with the idea about a year ago and we were planning it but got really bogged down in the research about the problem of homelessness.
“For a long time we were thinking ‘what is this really going to do? We’re not helping the actual problem, we’re not solving anything’. So for a long time that put us off. We worried that we were just putting a band aid on the problem.
“But after a while we just decided we would rather give a man on the street a winter jacket than do nothing. We can’t go out and buy everyone a house, we can’t just go and knock on 10 Downing Street and make them changes their policies, as much as we would love to. We can only do what we can do. I feel happier knowing that I’ve done everything I can.”
Both women have full-time jobs - Cramer is a strategist at VICE and Montanaro a creative at Analog Folk - which understandably complicates the matter, but they said they were stunned by the offers of help they received after announcing the project.
Cramer said: “When the community really cares about something, it’s amazing how many people offer their help and services. The people that we’ve had contact us every day, just strangers offering to help out.
She added: “When you get that kind of support you just can’t not go ahead with it.”
Crack + Cider has also received much praise, with Stephen Robertson, CEO of the Big Issue Foundation, saying of it: “This initiative gives people an opportunity to take some direct action to help rough sleepers at the crisis point that is rough sleeping.”
Ryan Maynes, from the Labour campaign to end homelessness by 2030, described the initiative as a “really admirable thing”.
It seems the project has indeed helped people to engage with the issue of homelessness in a new way too.
One customer, Rachel, said: "I'm one of those people who are wary of giving cash to the homeless and just this morning I was wondering how I could contribute in a way that ensured the money would be used as intended... great idea, hope it flies."
Another, Anis, said: "Many times I have felt guilty for walking past homeless people for whom I want to give something but I did not want to donate money that is wasted, so your venture is absolutely great."
Crack + Cider's pop-up shop is situated in One Good Deed Today, 73 Kingsland Road, E2, until Christmas Day. Those unable to visit the store are also able to shop online here.
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