Advertisement
Activism

What should you do if you see a homeless person?

A warm greeting and a word or two can make all the difference

Homelessness has become a clearly visible issue on Britain’s streets in recent years and it is a perilous place to be.

That is true whether the weather is hot or cold but extreme weather can make life on the streets even more dangerous. 

Often it is during heatwaves or during the festive season when temperatures drop when you can make the most difference to people’s lives.

Official figures showed 2,900 people estimated to be sleeping rough on a single night in September 2022 in England – up 20 per cent since the same period last year.

However, even this might be an underestimate, with new government data suggesting the number of people sleeping rough in England could be more than twice the official figure.

These stats put in perspective the challenge that the current Westminster government is facing to reach its target of ending rough sleeping by 2024.

Advertisement
Advertisement

No-fault evictions are a leading driver of homelessness and the Westminster government promised to ban them in 2019. Since then, almost 230,000 private renters have received a section 21 notice, according to Shelter, amounting to one every seven minutes. Ministers are set to axe no-fault evictions in the upcoming Renters’ Reform Bill.

Devolved countries Scotland and Wales are also working to eradicate rough sleeping – the most visible form of homelessness. 

In Scotland, there were 28,882 homeless households recorded in 2021/22, up from just over 28,000 in the previous year. That accounts for 32,592 adults and 14,372 children. Meanwhile in Wales, 11,704 households were assessed as homeless or owed a duty by local authorities to help them into secure accommodation between April 2021 and March 2022 – a decrease of 11 per cent from the year prior. 

As the ongoing cost-of-living crisis squeezes households across the country, charities have raised grave concerns that these already unacceptable figures could increase this winter. 

The sight of someone living on the streets still remains commonplace – but there are a number of ways where you can have a big impact on someone’s life for a small investment in time.

What do you say to a homeless person?

The first way to help people experiencing homelessness is a simple one – speak up! A warm greeting, some simple small talk or even just asking a personal question can make all the difference.

Homelessness puts an enormous strain on mental health with long hours of loneliness, isolation and sleep deprivation.

Big Issue vendors can have this experience, too, even while out selling the magazine on a packed street.

That’s why speaking up is so important.

Just think that the person that you pass who is living on the streets might not have spoken to anyone that day – just a simple ‘hello, how are you?’ could make an enormous difference to someone’s day. 

And who knows? Maybe you will take away something that does the same for you.
So why not strike up a conversation? And if you get chatting to one of our Big Issue vendors working hard to earn a living on the streets, why not buy a magazine too? You can find your nearest vendor here.

What would you ask a homeless person?

Striking up a conversation is no different than with anyone else. You can say hello, ask how someone is or what plans they have for the day.

The same rules apply to striking up a conversation with any stranger, just be friendly and respectful and be wary of overstepping any boundaries. Many people will strike up a conversation, others might not want to talk. That’s fine, too, it’s all about making sure the other person is comfortable. 

As well as asking how someone is doing, you could also see if they need any help with anything.

Homelessness can make it almost impossible for rough sleepers to access services that those with a secure home can often take for granted. Healthcare can be tricky to get while setting up essential facilities required for work or benefits, like a bank account, are also tough without an address.

If you are told about these problems and you are in England and Wales, send an alert to StreetLink – an organisation which connects people living on the streets with local authority and outreach teams to reach support.

Article continues below

StreetLink becomes increasingly crucial for finding people who are experiencing homelessness but may be out of sight on the streets – when the temperatures drop, accessing emergency support can quickly become life-saving.

You can also point people to your nearest warm bank, if there is one nearby – these are free spaces open to anyone who needs to come in from the cold for a bit. 

As the weather turns colder this winter, living on the streets becomes ever more dangerous. Heatwaves can become just as deadly too while climate change means extreme weather events are likely to become more frequent.

More than 1,200 died while homeless in the UK in 2021, an 80% increase over the last two years. While interventions you can make on the street may seem like a small thing, they can also potentially save someone’s life. 

If you have an immediate concern for someone who is unwell or in danger on the street, call the emergency services.

What is the best thing to give a homeless person?

Life on the streets is tough and some of the challenges change from season to season.

In the winter, give a warm drink, warm clothing and other things that insulate from the cold if you are unable to help get the person to shelter.

Summer can be just as difficult with no place to get out of the sun. So consider offering high-factor sunscreen – which can often be expensive – and water to rough sleepers to protect them from the heat.

And if you see any of our vendors out selling the magazine on a pitch near you, a warm word would not go amiss alongside supporting them by buying the magazine.

Of course, you could always put a homeless person in touch with one of our distribution offices all over the UK to give them the chance to get themselves a hand up, not a hand out too.

But it is important to have a compassionate and non-judgmental conversation with the person you are trying to help first. They can tell you what they want and what help they might need.

Advertisement

Every copy counts this Winter

Your local vendor is at the sharp end of the cost-of-living crisis this Winter. Prices of energy and food are rising rapidly. As is the cost of rent. All at their highest rate in 40 years. Vendors are amongst the most vulnerable people affected. Support our vendors to earn as much as they can and give them a fighting chance this Winter.

Recommended for you

Read All
Betting shops are taking over this town. But the locals are fighting back
Gambling

Betting shops are taking over this town. But the locals are fighting back

The government’s anti-protest bill is back. Here’s what you might not know about it
Public Order Bill

The government’s anti-protest bill is back. Here’s what you might not know about it

Inside the trial of the 'Barclays Seven' Extinction Rebellion activists
Long read

Inside the trial of the 'Barclays Seven' Extinction Rebellion activists

Women stage Suffragettes march to support Extinction Rebellion protesters ahead of sentencing
Climate activism

Women stage Suffragettes march to support Extinction Rebellion protesters ahead of sentencing

Most Popular

Read All
Lauren Layfield: 'Normal men, innocent men' and me
1.

Lauren Layfield: 'Normal men, innocent men' and me

Here's when people will get the next cost of living payment in 2023
2.

Here's when people will get the next cost of living payment in 2023

Where to find grants for furniture and carpets in 2023
3.

Where to find grants for furniture and carpets in 2023

Scotland aims to cut car use by creating '20-minute neighbourhoods' in net zero push
4.

Scotland aims to cut car use by creating '20-minute neighbourhoods' in net zero push