How Can You Help Those Sleeping on the Streets This Christmas?

18/12/2014 17:23 GMT | Updated 17/02/2015 10:59 GMT

Have you ever walked past someone sleeping rough, wanted to help, but been confused about the best thing to do? In a recent poll, more than half of people told us this was the case.

It's easy to understand why this is so. Should you give food? A hot drink? Money? The majority of people I speak to genuinely want to help, but don't know whose advice to listen to.

What you choose to do really is a matter of personal choice, but there is a practical step you can take to help connect rough sleepers to local advice and support.

StreetLink was launched two years ago to give members of the public the power do just this. It's a simple proposition: you provide information about the location and the individual via the phone-line, website and mobile app, and StreetLink pass it on to the local services that may be able to help.

This simple act can provide the vital link between those on the street and the support they need to leave rough sleeping behind. This connection is not always easy to make.

Research indicates that around half of those sleeping rough don't seek help before they end up on the streets, and many are simply unaware of the help that is available to them. This is not surprisingly really. Nobody plans to end up in that situation, and it often happens suddenly, the result of circumstances outside their control.

As you can imagine, sleeping rough is dangerous, damaging to health, and can exacerbate existing problems. Homeless Link's recent audit of homeless people's health needs showed that of those that had slept rough, 84% reported some form of physical health problem, and 87% a mental health problem. We also know that 1 in 3 have attempted suicide.

This is the reality for at least 2,400 people who sleep on England's streets every single night.

There are terrific organisations throughout England working tirelessly to help individuals experiencing homelessness. However, rough sleepers often remain hidden from view, and unknown to these services.

This is where the public can really make a difference, acting as the eyes on the ground to bridge this gap.

And it works. Since launching in December 2012, public referrals to StreetLink have led to more than 8,600 individuals being found and connected with help, and more than 1,600 supported into accommodation.

It isn't a fail-safe system, nor is it a quick fix. Rough sleeping remains a difficult issue to tackle and there is no guarantee that every alert will lead to the individual being found and helped.

However, more and more people are being connected with support every month and every public alert provides invaluable about the picture of rough sleeping across England.

We've launched the #SleepWell campaign to raise awareness about StreetLink and encourage more people to get in touch if they're concerned about someone sleeping rough. The short video below explains why we need your help.

If you see someone sleeping rough during the festive season, the best gift you can give is a few minutes of your time to contact StreetLink. It really could make a difference.