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There’s no disputing homelessness is on the rise. All you have to do is open your eyes: there are sleeping bags and tents on street corners across the UK.
At least 320,000 people are registered as homeless – a rise in 4% since last year, though the figures are likely to be much higher. An estimated 24,000 people in the UK will sleep rough over the festive season and for those sleeping on the streets, winter is a particularly dangerous time.
The freezing weather leaves people at risk from exposure and hypothermia. This is on top of the fact they are 17 times more likely than the general public to face physical violence: CCTV footage of three men drop-kicking a homeless man in a tent in Hull brought home this senselessness.
Homelessness can affect people from all walks of life and it’s important to remember it’s not just about people being forced to sleep rough. There are families living in hotel rooms for months on end, in some cases years. Others are having to squat, sofa-surf or sleep on public transport.
Thankfully there are people stepping in to help in their time of need. Here are some brilliant initiatives to get behind.
Helping The Homeless Get Active
Exeter City Community Trust runs a free weekly football session at Exeter City Football Club for people who are homeless or vulnerable. To date it has supported more than 200 people. Opportunity Club runs every Tuesday from 12-1pm at Riverside Leisure Centre with five-a-side games.
Beauty Gifts For Vulnerable Women
Project BE is a non-profit campaign set up by blogger Gina Hutchings this year. “I wanted to give back in some form so started to collect unused toiletries and essentials,” she said. “I now work with a Luton-based charity which provides a drop-in centre for vulnerable women.”
Gina collects donations from individuals, companies and beauty suppliers to give to these women. “While we have foodbanks we don’t have some other essentials like lip balms, medicated creams for dry skin or skin conditions, or sanitary wear,” she said. “Or the little things that make women feel better about themselves like a body spray or nail polish.”
Jackets With A Difference
Jo Ashburner Farr experienced homelessness a few years ago after her husband abandoned her when she was pregnant, leaving her with nothing. She spent some time sleeping in a car and, after getting herself back on her feet, she entered education and did a degree in design.
Now she runs a social enterprise called Red Dragon Manufacturing which makes flags and employs mums who aren’t in education or training. She is also working with a Welsh homelessness charity on a new product called Roof Coat Bag. It is a water-resistant, insulated, all-in-one padded coat with an integrated sleeping bag, hood, hidden pockets and breathable interlining - designed to be packed away into a cross over, lightweight shoulder bag.
Free Meals For Those In Need
Every Wednesday, chef Damian Wawrzyniak invites local homeless people to enjoy a free meal at his restaurant House of Feasts in Peterborough. And he’s encouraging other restauranteurs to get involved.
He’s not the only one. Friar Street Kitchen in Worcester is opening its doors on Christmas Day to allow a homeless charity to cook lunch for homeless people.
Cummin Up, a Caribbean restaurant in Catford, will also be offering free meals on Christmas Day, between 1-7pm, for those who need it.
Teaching Cooking Skills
Brigade Bar & Kitchen is a bustling social enterprise restaurant set in a fire station in the heart of London Bridge. It trains homeless people as apprentices, offering thousands of people new skills so they can find work.
Hosting In Homes
There are also brilliant charities helping to get people off the streets and into warm temporary homes. Refugees At Home helps match refugees and asylum seekers with people who have a spare room to host them, while charities like Nightstop match people who are homeless with suitable hosts.
Tap To Pay
Hardly anybody carries change anymore and this is impacting the homeless community. That’s why non-profit TAP London rolled out over 90 contactless giving points across the capital this month.
“We enable Londoners to give a £3 tap to help tackle homelessness and 100% of every donation is split between charities within the London Homeless Charities Group,” says a spokesperson. Here’s a map of contactless locations and a live ticker of how much has been raised so far, It’s just passed the £10,000 mark.
Big Issue vendors are also trialling contactless payments for the first time.
When tech entrepreneur Alex Stephany met a homeless man at his local tube station, he bought him coffees and socks. But as he watched the man’s condition deteriorate, he wondered what else he could do to make a lasting difference. The man had never had a job – so Alex wondered if the answer lay in giving him the skills and training to support himself.
That would cost a lot more than coffees and socks – but what if everyone chipped in? Retraining network Beam was born, based on the simple idea of people coming together to crowdfund employment training for homeless people. Since then it’s helped hundreds of people find their feet.
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