Rising rough sleeping is a major concern, people in Birmingham have told HuffPost UK, as they shared their experiences of seeing an increase in homelessness in the city centre.
Local Jonny Betteridge said he had walked past five homeless people “in as many metres” as people shared their reactions as part of HuffPost Listens, a project to go out in the city and listen to people.
We heard residents say they feel alarmed by seeing more people on the streets - yet they are unsure how to help. Homelessness was the number one issue raised when asked what worries people about their city.
The number of rough sleepers officially counted in the UK’s second biggest city rose in 2017 to 57, up slightly from 55 in 2016 - but a substantial increase from just nine people reported in 2010. Homeless charities have argued that such figures - from a count of how many people are on the streets on a single night - can be inaccurate so the number could be higher.
Visible begging and drug use, especially of the synthetic cannabis drug Spice or Black Mamba, also increase the impression.
Oona MacDonald described the situation as “shocking”.
Robert Foster said the problem had got worse and that the cost of living and a lack of support for single parents were factors.
David Magadan, an international student, said it was “jarring” to see.
Jusra Omar felt that seeing more women sleeping rough was a sign that “something is going wrong”.
One woman said she has changed her route to work and now took a longer way, because of sleeping bags and sick on the street.
People expressed sympathy for the rough sleepers - Keith Thomas, who has volunteered working with homeless people with the British Red Cross, said he had met “amazing” people and most were just unlucky.
Lauren Marlow was among many people saying they weren’t sure how best to help, or which charities to contact.
Kane Walker, who is homeless, said that he was forced to urinate on the street because Birmingham doesn’t have many public urinals like London does.
But residents like Nikhara Korpal shared stories of local schemes that are working to help - from a pub housing rough sleepers to Let’s Feed Brum, which organises for food and drink businesses to hand out food and drink each night, and Birmingham Food Drive which gathers, packs and gives out donated supplies.
Korpal has given homeless people haircuts and taken their pictures, which she hopes will make people “feel good”.
HuffPost has this week also revealed that single mothers in the city are worst hit by hidden homelessness, when people live in insecure housing or sofa-surf.
In a special Listening Circle event this week, HuffPost got a group of people together to share their experience of the housing crisis, and ideas for solutions.
The importance of communities and officials working together was stressed, echoing what we heard in the city centre: “People work together to make things happen,” said Hattie D’Souza.
HuffPostListens – Birmingham
HuffPost wants to get out of the media bubble and tell the real story of the UK. For one week we relocate our newsroom to the heart of Birmingham and invite people to tell us what they care about - we will go and report on it. We’re also hiring more reporters out of London, starting in Birmingham. We don’t think the media has listened to people enough, so that’s what we’re doing. Listening to the stories of Birmingham, opening up our newsroom to its people and telling the real story of Britain from the heart of one of its biggest and best cities. You decide the news. We’ll tell your story. Birmingham, be heard. #HuffPostListens