What do you do when you see the homeless in the High Street?

In a rather politicized exchange yesterday on Facebook I came across one comment:All you need to do is walk down Southend high street to see how much homelessness has risen under the Tories. And look up how many people have become penniless and desperate due to disability cuts and jobseekers sanctions…” My response was “what do you do when you see the homeless in the High Street?” and added the rather provocative yet true statement that half the homeless activists whose affiliation I know are Tories.

The purpose of this post is not to make political points. I tend to keep politics and religion out of my homeless activities. As I told one Conservative political friend: I treat all parties with equal disdain. Actually it is more subtle than that. My approach to politics tends to be mix and match. I try to balance ideology and practicality on a whole range of issues. There is a place for action that may reap long term benefits e.g. political, but my focus is on the here and now. While political engagement and righteous indignation may be important, we do better sometimes to deal with matters in hand and help as we can, like respond to what we see on our doorsteps.

Of course, our responses are all going to be different and my point is not to judge but rather to make people aware and perhaps challenge them to do something for these people. I have made many observations over the years regarding those who present as being homeless in the High Street. A good many aren’t really homeless and a good many do so in order to beg and spend money they get on alcohol and drugs. A good many are so disempowered that they often don’t do the obvious to help themselves. A good many of the genuine homeless are hidden from view. This is what I do, mindful of my limitations. If I don’t do something, it may be because I have enough on my plate. Readers might care to consider their response.

  1. Sometimes I do nothing; there is a time and a place; it is impossible to do all that could be done.
  2. If I do catch the eye of the homeless person, and I try to avoid turning away, I look him/her in the eye, and without rancor, because the most important with any homeless person is to affirm his/her humanity. If appropriate we have a short conversation. I try to listen more than I speak.
  3. If we get talking about where to go to help, I refer to the contents of the Southend Rough Sleeper Leaflet. Besides pointing in the right direction, we might talk about anything of interest to the homeless person, for after all among greatest gifts we can give anyone are our time, a listening ear and a friendly face.
  4. Sometimes I give stuff e.g. coffee, food, clothing, sleeping bag (usually when aware someone being at a certain place). If I can’t buy a coffee there and then I refer them to somewhere like the Utopia coffee house, where a suspended coffee has been brought sometime previously. I do not give money.
  5. I volunteer for one of the soup kitchens that operate: Street Spirit, One Love, Homeless Hub.
  6. I volunteer for one of the church winter night shelters (CWNS) operating seven days a week between December and March, offering overnight accommodation to twenty homeless people.
  7. I am involved with Southend Homeless Action Network (SHAN) which has done a good deal to help the homeless by bringing together those with an interest and addressing unmet needs.
  8. While I don’t volunteer directly for HARP, the main homeless charity in the town, this is one charity people who want to help the homeless might care to volunteer for or support financially
  9. I am aware of a host of other charities that deal with the effects of or triggers to homelessness and do what I can to encourage and highlight their work, suggesting others might like to get involved.
  10. Given that even together these do not help everyone and rarely is anyone helped fully, there is still room for you and I to do our bit.
  11. In the main, the powers that be would like to rid high streets of the homeless. Some of those reasons are valid; other’s e.g. nimbyism and prejudice aren’t. We need compassion and common sense and us to make our authorities accountable.
  12. While I am politically “neutral” and do not belonging to a political party, I do engage in the political process. Things like the lack of affordable accommodation are significant homeless issues and addressing these include the need to find political solutions.
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