It's time to stop talking and start acting
Words by Sara Vaughan
As I sit down to write this, the temperature tonight across the UK is plummeting below freezing. But I have a roof over my head, extra layers to put on and a steaming cup of tea in my hands. Those due to spend the night sleeping on the pavement are not so fortunate.
According to Shelter 320,000 people will be trying to find somewhere warm and safe to sleep tonight with the highest levels of homelessness in London (one in 52). But it’s a crisis that has touched every area of the UK. In Brighton the figure is 1 in 67, while in Birmingham it 1 in 73.
Lucy Abraham is the COO of Glassdoor, the West London Homeless Charity. She says 19% of those accessing support are women. In the first month of their night shelters opening this winter, 61 different women, ranging in age from 18-72, have stayed with them for at least one night. They have already had at least three pregnant women – the first arrived a day after the shelters opened at 8 and a half months pregnant.
Women are especially vulnerable on the streets. Watching the courageously told stories featuring Katie, Colleen, Mary, Alex and Alicia on Homeless Stories directed by photojournalist and filmmaker, Hazel Thompson makes for a very moving experience. “Women experience trauma like abuse and trafficking at disproportionately-high rates,” adds Abraham.
So, what can you do if you want to Start Somewhere and help the homeless this winter? Here’s what the experts recommend:
1.Make eye contact. Smile, greet and have a chat. One of the most difficult aspects of being homeless is the loneliness. Even a simple smile can let someone know they’re not invisible. Greet them and ask if they would like a chat and if they do, don’t rush it.
2. Offer something to eat. But don’t assume you know what someone wants or how they like their tea. Ask them.
3. Offer to connect them to local services. Ask if they know where their local services are. If not, you can find this information on Homeless Link. Alternatively ask the person if she or he would allow you to contact Streetlink on their behalf. The details of the location you provide are then sent to the local authority.
4. Volunteer. Offer your time, skills and energy to your local homeless organisation. Use Homeless Link’s searchable database to find a charity local to you. Some of these e.g. GlassDoor will have a dedicated women’s group. Volunteering over the festive season can also be particularly rewarding and Crisis at Christmas has a range of volunteering roles still available all over the UK. Join the Under One Sky Community and write a message of hope to someone living on the streets
5. Give much needed clothing & toiletries. People experiencing homelessness need clothing, socks, shoes and underwear throughout the year. Women also need toiletries and sanitary products. Enquire as to what is needed by your local shelter and donate accordingly. Donate unwanted personal care & beauty products to Beauty Banks
6. Fundraise/Donate. Raise funds and awareness for a national charity or your local homeless shelter. The Marie Claire team have just taken part in Shelter’s Sleep Walk. The World’s Big Sleep Out this weekend is still accepting registrations.
7. Buy a product that supports the homeless. Such as The Right To Shower which is a social entreprise brand which uses the profits from their range of vegan bar soaps and body washes to build showers for people living on the streets. Or buy a coffee from a Change Please cart, an award-winning business that trains people affected by homelessness to become baristas.
8. Help them get back on their feet by sponsoring someone through an organization like #Homeless Entrepreneur which empowers homeless people to use the skills they have to create a new life for themselves.
Sara Vaughan is Marie Claire’s Chief Purpose and Sustainability Advisor. She is also a regular volunteer for GlassDoor and is Chair of The Advisory Board to Stories for Change and Homeless Stories