Despite being one of the most developed countries in the world, England has one of the worst statistics for people sleeping rough. Culture Calling’s Julia finds out what we can do to improve homelessness in the UK.
There is no national figure for how many people sleep rough in UK. However, in England the figure has doubled since 2010, with the 2015 Government statistics showing that 3,659 people slept rough on any one night across England. There are many reasons why people become homeless. According to the homeless charity Crisis, the main cause of homelessness is relationship breakdown. On average homeless people die at just 47 years old and are 13 times more likely to be a victim of violence.
Last month, I volunteered a couple of days at the women's residential centre in London operated by Crisis. From the 22nd to 30th December, Crisis sheltered over 4,000 guests across the UK with over 10,000 volunteers offering their time. Many of the thousands of volunteers who help each year are former Christmas guests, who have used the service to turn their lives around.
At the women's residential centre, vulnerable guests are offered a safe place away from the city’s cold outdoors. They receive three hot meals a day, showers, new clothes, haircuts, massages and a bed for seven nights. They can have their eyes tested, see the doctor, have a dental check-up and have access to the internet 24 hours a day – many reconnected with family members.
As well as the day-to-day provisions we take for granted, guests are offered advice from trained outreach workers, as well as having the opportunity to attend alcoholics and narcotics anonymous.
At Crisis, guests are offered a safe environment to rest but they can also get active with yoga, pilates and dance sessions, and have fun at bingo and karaoke. I witnessed one guest taking to the mic with a Bob Marley track at 7.30 in the morning! Guests can also enjoy entertainment throughout the week from performances by singers and poets to shows by magicians and impersonators. Everyone including the performers are volunteers, it wouldn’t happen without them!
I served tea & coffee, cleaned the toilets and assisted guests with mobility issues around the building. On the whole, I was there to interact with guests, be a friendly face and help them in any way I could. One of the most heart-breaking tasks I was given was to wake up guests on the final day. Crisis’ shelters only run during Christmas, some guests will have housing lined-up or a hostel to go to but, sadly, some will return to the streets.
The Crisis campaign ‘No One Turned Away’ is calling for every homeless person who approaches their council to get the help they need. Currently, if a homeless person in England is not considered a priority they can be turned away and have nowhere to stay. The homeless Reduction Bill, proposed by Bob Blackman MP and supported by homelessness charities including Crisis, could transform the help available to homeless people in England. If you would like to support the bill, write to your MP today to encourage them to attend the homelessness reduction bill debate.
Are you wondering how you can help? We’ve pulled together a number of other homeless charities who rely on the hard work of volunteers to continue they work helping one of the most vulnerable groups of people in our society.
Founded 50 years ago, Shelter offers homeless people vital advice, support and legal services. The charity has year-round opportunities to volunteers across the UK from offering time at your local Shelter shop to helping out in one of their offices. If you love a challenge, how about running a marathon or cycling 100 miles, and fundraise to support the charity’s continuing work to help the homeless.
Emmaus was started in France shortly after the Second World War when homelessness was a big issue. The first Emmaus community was brought to Cambridge in the 80s but it’s now serving the whole of the UK. The charity is currently looking for fashion enthusiasts and Ebay geeks to assist with the sorting and selling of clothing donations amongst other exciting voluntary opportunities.
Homeless Link is a national membership charity for organisations working directly with people who become homeless in England. They regularly advertise paid and unpaid vacancies for Homeless Link as well as other organisations working with the homeless. C4WS Homeless Project is looking for enthusiastic mentors to support users of their Jobs Club programme to take their first steps into employment. They only ask for an hour a week of your time!
Noticed someone sleeping rough on your way to work? Members of the public can report their concern about someone sleeping rough to StreetLink, who will, in turn, connect them to the local services they need. There are other ways you can work with StreetLink by handling alerts to reporting back to members of the public. See the website for more information.
Check out other voluntary positions on websites such as Do-it and Work Relief. Make it your new year’s resolution to volunteer this year.