Homelessness has been hitting the news recently, sparking a national debate around the question we get asked most often. Should we give money to homeless people on the streets, or not?
Earlier this week, Gloucester City Council posters appeared, suggesting not all rough sleepers are homeless and urging people to “think” before handing over change.
Critics claim the posters were designed to make the public “suspicious” of homeless people and to believe that many rough sleepers were not genuine. The campaign sparked a backlash among constituents and commentators across social media.
But this isn’t the first time councils, or indeed homeless charities themselves, have advised against giving money directly to people out on the streets. So why does the issue keep coming up, and what is the answer?
Every day many of us walk past rough sleepers, and every day our conscience struggles with what to do. Should we just walk on by? Should we stop and give to someone asking for cash? Are they really homeless? How will they use the money?
There are simply no easy answers. While we can never know if everyone who asks for money claiming to be homeless genuinely is, the reality is that there are thousands of homeless people who have no place to turn and are in desperate need of help.
Every person you encounter out on the streets is an individual person, with a unique story
In fact, 236,000 people are experiencing homelessness in Britain and we know this will increase by more than 60,000 in the next 10 years, if nothing changes. And every person you encounter out on the streets is an individual person, with a unique story.
That’s why we believe it is a personal choice whether to give to someone or not. What is important to remember above all else is that homelessness is not a lifestyle choice. Thousands of people across the country are being failed simply by our lack of affordable and accessible housing and cuts in welfare. Many local councils are under extreme pressure and have very few places to house those who are homeless in their area.
Facing this situation is genuinely one of the most difficult circumstances in which any person can find themselves in their lifetime and is quite frankly, a human catastrophe. We speak to people every day who tell us their stories – perhaps their benefit entitlement no longer covers their rent and they face eviction, maybe they have lost a family member and have nowhere to turn, or maybe their tenancy came to an end and they couldn’t raise a deposit for a new place.
For some this can quickly lead to the horrors of sleeping on the streets, exposed to the elements and freezing temperatures, and vulnerable to violence and abuse.
If you feel unsure about giving to someone on the streets, and you feel comfortable having a conversation instead, then why not try that? Many people tell us they face extreme isolation every day and simply want to be acknowledged as a human being. Being constantly ignored and stigmatised is soul destroying. If you’re not comfortable speaking to a rough sleeper or buying them a sandwich or cup of tea, you should certainly contact Streetlink, a service that refers people in need to suitable agencies. You can download the app, call the 24-hour helpline on 0300 500 0914 or visit the website here .
The UK Government has already pledged to tackle and end different forms of homelessness, including rough sleeping, but now is the time for action. In 21st Century Britain, no one should have no place to call home and no one should have to debate whether to give money to someone sleeping on the street. It’s a problem we just shouldn’t be dealing with anymore. As a society we need to address the root causes of homelessness to end it once and for all. Meanwhile, we need to continue giving people the support they need to leave homelessness behind for good.
Later this year, we’ll publish a plan showing how we can end homelessness in Britain for good. Join our Everybody In campaign and be part of the movement for change.