How small actions can make a difference for someone sleeping on the streets
How can I support someone who is sleeping on the streets?... Should I give people money? We get asked these questions a lot.
Rough sleeping is the most visible and devastating form of homelessness – and we know that people feel a lot of uncertainty about how they can – or should – support someone who is rough sleeping.
Giving money is a personal choice – and you should only do what makes you feel comfortable. If you’re concerned about giving money, ask if there’s anything else the person you’re talking to might need. Things like food or drink, vouchers or phone credit can be a big support to someone who is sleeping rough. In hot weather, a bottle of water or sun cream could be particularly useful.
Whatever you do, remember that each person is different and will have different needs. So, ask them what they would find most helpful.
Whether we choose to give money or any other items, one of the most important things we can do is offer connection and conversation.
When *Emma experienced homelessness, she felt dehumanised and ignored:
“For me, mental health problems were the cause of my homelessness. But rather than being treated as someone who was not well, I was treated as a criminal. Services asked me what I needed, then ignored my requests. This sense of being seen as a problem or a statistic is really isolating.”
“Everybody has a right to be treated with dignity, but when you experience homelessness, you are often treated as a problem or a statistic – you are dehumanized and shunned. Loneliness and isolation become a big part of the experience of homelessness.”
That’s why for her, it's important people understand that even small actions can help someone feel less lonely.
That could be by having a conversation about their day or something other than their circumstances – and generally making a connection.
For *Emma, receiving a hug had a particularly important impact on her:
“I wasn't given a hug for about four years. This lack of basic contact left me feeling totally thrown away by society as nowhere I turned for help actually listened to me and cared about meeting my needs.
“Fortunately for me, I met a woman who was assigned to work with me because I had become one of the most excluded members of society. That woman saved my life. She also broke through society’s barriers by giving me a hug as the first thing she did when we met. She asked if it would be OK to beforehand.”
Even when someone’s homelessness is ended, the impact of loneliness and isolation will often remain.
“For me and many people like me, our experiences lead to a lack of trust. It takes a lot to overcome the hopelessness and the rejection that society hurls at us. There is also a stigma in society about homelessness and that makes it difficult to make new friends. Being ‘othered’, dehumanised and feeling isolated has a huge impact on us and causes barriers to re-entering society.”
Like *Emma, a lot of people feel invisible when they are experiencing rough sleeping.
Treating each other with dignity is something that we value as a society – and it’s something we all have the power to do.
*Please note: Emma is a pseudonym we used to protect this person's identity. However, all accounts by the said person are true to life.
If you’re concerned about someone who is sleeping on the streets, you can contact Streetlink via their website or by using the Streetlink app. Always ask someone if they’re happy for you to contact Streetlink on their behalf.
There are other ways to help people experiencing homelessness. You can donate, volunteer or fundraise for Crisis.
For media enquiries:
T: 020 7426 3880
For general enquiries:
T: 0300 636 1967