Helping the homeless

I noticed on Facebook these past couple of days postings relating to metal studs having gone up outside a block of flats in London, in order to stop people loitering in the doorway and this also is acting as a deterrent to rough sleepers. As is my habit, I have quickly scanned the various comments ranging from outrage to full endorsement of such a measure. One I particularly liked was from someone I know who is actively helping the homeless, who felt for health and safety reasons something needed to be done and that rather than criticize we should be out there helping the homeless.

As many know who read my blog, helping the homeless is one of my main community activities these days. Last night I joined Street Spirit, who engaged with a number of homeless folk on the streets of Southend and gave out food. This afternoon, I will look in on a fund raising concert they are running. This evening it is my turn to be the person in charge at St. Andrews Open House when we entertain folk, many of who are homeless, and provide them with a meal. On Tuesday I will be speaking at a church ladies meeting on the subject of homelessness. Later in the week I will be organizing the next SHAN meeting and dealing with some individual cases. Someone I know is setting up a house with the view to accommodate some of these folk and another has an idea of a centre where people can go and engage in useful activity – I daresay I will get involved somehow, even if only in an advisory and supportive capacity.

I mention these things not so much to point attention to what I am doing (which I honestly don’t think is all that much) but rather to reinforce my friends point that there are things we can all do to help. There is no magic formula given the often complex needs of homeless folk and the limited resources to meet those needs, especially around suitable accommodation. Speaking to my friend last night, we reflected on the foolishness of feeding those, which may have spent all their money earlier in the week on alcohol in the full knowledge that there will be free hand outs. Speaking to some of my rough sleeper friends last night, I found out just a little more about their stories, journeys, joys, dilemmas, hopes and aspirations etc. and know that a lot more is needed. I like to think that spending time listening etc. also brought a measure of hope and self-worth.

Please understand there is a homeless crisis in this town and in this country, as my earlier “Myths about rough sleeping” blog post has argued and often for a whole variety of reasons, over which many of those affected have little control. There is no magic solution as my earlier posts and writings have discussed. Certainly, there is no one agency that can anywhere near pick up all the slack of what is needed, but there is something we can all do. Professionals have a challenging job with a challenging client group to deal with but rather than find ways for not helping or passing the buck, think of how they can help. Joined up working is definitely the key and wanting to help the homeless must be our common ground.

There are many openings for willing volunteers with agencies who are able to help and thus enable them to do more. As members of the public, rather than walk by on the other side when we next see a homeless person on the streets or appease our conscience by dropping them a few coins (that may well go on booze), let us look to find ways to bless – with a kind word or a cup of tea or a burger.

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