12/12/2012 11:44 GMT | Updated 10/02/2013 05:12 GMT

Helping Everyone In

Recent reports of about the deaths of homeless people highlight the fact that on any one night in England there are estimated to be over 2,000 people sleeping on our streets. Sleeping rough, especially in the cold winter, can damage your health and is dangerous. We all know this is wrong and want to help, but the question is how?

Some people stop and have a chat, some give money or food, while others walk on by thinking there is little practical action they can take. Before I started work for a homeless charity, I always used to wonder 'Why are these people not being helped by homeless charities or local councils?'

Well, I now know how complex the issue is. Some people who are sleeping rough may not be known to local services because they remain out of sight, bedding down at different times of day or night, and moving from place to place.

While those who find themselves homeless certainly didn't plan to be so, many just don't know where to turn for help or about the advice and support that could be available.

A new telephone and website is being launched today, which I hope will make it easier to connect people sleeping rough with local advice and support but only with your help.

Funded by government and run by charities, StreetLink is a simple concept. If you are concerned about someone sleeping rough, you can ring or use the website. The details you provide are then sent to the council so they can help connect the person to local services. StreetLink will also follow up your alert to find out what has happened as a result.

Driven by the recession, rough sleeping rose by more than a fifth last year. However, local pilots have shown that, even if more people are arriving on the streets, many can be helped more quickly off them if the public are involved.

People who are homeless experience some of the worst health problems in society. Life on the streets can make people vulnerable to drugs and alcohol problems, illness, mental health issues and dying prematurely. Many individuals arrive on the streets with existing health issues and the longer they spend out, the more these problems multiply and the harder they are to overcome. This is why your help in quickly finding someone who is sleeping rough is so vital.

Will it work in every case? That's difficult to answer, because rough sleeping is a complex issue. A minority of people may have a long history of sleeping rough, be known to local services and require longer term help to come off the streets. Others may also struggle to access publicly funded services - for example foreign nationals who are not in the UK legally. And of course someone might appear to be homeless but have somewhere to stay.

However, any action you take to help is not wasted. By alerting StreetLink you could be taking the first step to helping someone off the streets. While we have been testing the service, we've already seen individuals who were sleeping on the pavement one night and in a bed the next, thanks to the prompt action of the public and local services.

So save the StreetLink number, 0300 500 0914, onto your phone, download the app or bookmark the webpage today. Once inside someone can start to get their life back on track. Using StreetLink is one practical step we can take to help start someone on this journey.