Homelessness needs political solutions. But as temperatures plummet, communities are also finding a new way to both immediately practically help, and connect with, homeless people.
At some point today, you probably walked past one of the 5,000 people
who slept rough last night and temperatures across the UK plummet, the
situation facing rough sleepers becomes more desperate than ever.
In October, research revealed that 449
homeless people had died over the previous year on the country’s streets. Since
then, an average of three homeless people have died every week.
According to Crisis, there are currently 236,000 people across England,
Scotland, and Wales who are experiencing the worst forms of homelessness: this
includes people living on the streets, in cars and tents, in shelters, or in
unsuitable temporary accommodation.
Their situation is a result of government policy which has led to the
housing shortage, the lack of homelessness prevention schemes and a woefully
inadequate benefits system.
This week, as Arctic winds bring snow and sub-zero temperatures to
British shores, a new community-led initiative was launched in London to try
and help rough sleepers.
On bitterly cold Tuesday morning, a clothes rail was set up outside the
Holy Redeemer church on London’s bustling Exmouth Market beneath a sign that
read: “If you are cold, take one. If you can help, leave one.” By the
afternoon, the rail was filled with warm clothes – jackets, coats, hats,
gloves, blankets and scarves – and homeless people were stopping by to take
whatever they needed. “Actions like these make me feel hope” one woman tweeted
alongside before and after photos of the rail.
As well as the clothes rail, a string of ‘pledge cards’ offer homeless
people free food, drinks and other services. The pledge cards are either bought
by locals from shops at a discounted price or donated by shopkeepers . More
than a dozen businesses on the street have got involved
and almost 100 meals and hot drinks were donated in the first
day alone, in the form of pledges.
“This is a brilliantly simple idea and one we are
excited to be a part of,” said Ellie Pamphilon who runs a barbershop on the
street and has donated several haircuts and beard trims. “After their cut and
blow-dry, our customers can buy a discounted pledge card to give a homeless
person a haircut that they hang by the Take One Leave One Rail.”
If the pledge
scheme takes off, it could give a much-needed boost
to the local economy and could even be a model that could help struggling high
streets across the country. There are also possibilities for the pledging
principle to spill beyond the high street, with one person already offering to
pledge a dinner for rough sleepers in their home and another looking into
pledging rooms in local hotels.
The Take One Leave One initiative is not new.
Similar clothes rails have been set up in other parts of the UK and around the
world, and part of its beauty is that it can be replicated in any street. It
is hoped the initiative will encourage others across the UK to be inspired and
set up a clothes rail wherever they are. Those more ambitious could ask local
shop keepers to get involved in a pledge scheme.
By doing so, they will not only help to ensure homeless people are warm
and fed this winter, but will also help break down the barriers that too often
make rough sleepers feel invisible in the communities in which they live.
Whilst Take One, Leave One may offer some respite for rough sleepers in
the coming weeks, initiatives such as this can only have a small, short-term
impact. What is needed is government action. In Finland, homelessness was eliminated
through its “housing first” policy
which offers people who need them permanent places to call home.
Last year, Crisis set out a plan to end
homelessness within 10 years and called on all political parties to commit to
working towards this goal. After all, ending homelessness is not a utopian
dream. All that is needed the will to act.
To order a banner & pledge cards contact email@example.com.