Sadly, homelessness is a growing issue throughout many parts of the UK, and the southeast is not exempt from this. The issue requires huge effort and resources to tackle, but there are things you can do in your everyday life to make a difference.
In 2019 it is worryingly becoming commonplace to see homeless people, sometimes with their pets, on the streets, with little more than a sleep bag/blankets and a few possessions with them.
Recent figures show that homeless people’s deaths are “up 24%” over five years in England and Wales, with over 2,500 deaths recorded in total in that period . Unfortunately, the homeless still suffer the stigma of it being a choice, when in reality it can be often down to factors they can’t change – four of which of commonly are:
- Lack of funds (e.g. suddenly losing employment or the rising costs of living in general)
- Relationship breakdown: everything from young LGBTQ people being kicked out to people caring for elderly parents and not inheriting the house.
- Health problems: mental or physical health problems (including trauma, grief, abuse and addiction)
- Immigration: many refugees seeking asylum here, especially young 18-24 year olds from Europe looking for work in the country. 
Many will feel they want to help the homeless people they pass on the high street, but may be unsure what they can actually do to help – with that in mind, we have broken down some ways below:
1. Tell your local authority/a dedicated service
Telling a service is the minimum we can all do to help those who may currently be homeless. Each of the 22 local councils we work with different providers but for the Kent region, the county council advises to contact Porchlight on 0800 567 7699 for support (as of November 2018). A number will be offering dedicated Winter Shelters to provide short-term accommodation for the homeless.
Dates these are running vary by location, but some will open as early as October before closing at March at the latest, to help people through the most challenging months of cold weather. Most shelters will alternate by location each night across 7 different churches in the town or city.
To access the Winter Night Shelter, potential guests just have to complete a referral form and risk assessment interview – both should take roughly 40 minutes. Many, though sadly not all, are able to find a more permanent form of accommodation following staying at a shelter.
A selection of shelters open to the homeless this winter (& beyond):
Tunbridge Wells Churches Winter Shelter (until 4 March*)
07513 377951 http://tunbridgewellswintershelter.co.uk/
If you know of someone looking to stay in the Tunbridge Wells Winter Shelter, please advise them to go to Gateway (8 Grosvenor Rd) any weekday before 12.30pm to fill in the necessary forms.
Maidstone Churches Winter Shelter (until 22 March 2019*)
01622 296450 http://www.maidstoneshelter.org.uk/
Folkestone Churches Winter Shelter (until 24 February*)
01303 210199 http://wintershelter.org.uk/
Canterbury Winter Shelter (until 31 March 2019*)
Thanet Winter Shelter
07534 979705 http://thanetwintershelter.org/
Eastbourne Winter Shelter
07932 407730 https://kingdomwaytrust.org/winter-night-shelter/
Dover Winter Shelter (until 28th February 2019*)
Support service StreetLink also takes key information (i.e. where & when you saw someone) via phone and website or app, and gets in touch with the relevant parties in the area to help them access shelter and food. Each year the government-funded service works to help rough sleepers by the tens of thousands get support.
Seriously concerned about their health?
If you’re worried for their health or that they may not be breathing call NHS111 and they will pass it on to the local ambulance service if needed.
2. Give food/items that can help in the short-term
Something as simple as a sandwich, warm drink or basic personal hygiene product we take for granted could make a big difference to someone who has so little. Charities often say the most needed items outside of these things among the homeless are extra bedding, gloves, hats, backpacks, hardy shoes, phone credit and bus passes & phone credit. Of course, it doesn’t always have to be directly for them – a number of rough sleepers have a dog and getting them some food would be a help too.
You can also help charities in place to try and prevent more homelessness, such as foodbanks like Nourish and Dover Foodbank, or donate your unused and in-date hygiene essentials, beauty & personal care products to your local Hygiene Bank.
3. Support homelessness-related causes
There are many causes that specifically exist to help the homeless – such as The Bridge Trust, Porchlight and Shelter, in addition to the local Winter Shelter schemes mentioned above.
As hard as it is to decline when someone who seems desperate asks you for spare change on the street, most charities and relevant parties advice against giving money directly to rough sleepers, so you are fully aware of where it will go and that it will help them. Giving money is, of course, a personal decision, and down to you and how you feel in a certain situation.
“With £10 we can cover the cost of a warm, welcoming shelter, three course healthy dinner, breakfast and access to showers,” explained Sam Forsdike, Welfare Manager at homeless project C4WS, in a recent interview .
4. Give something completely free
…Treat them like a human. It may seem simple, but how many of us actually do it? It may seem easier to look away when you feel you don’t know what to do to help a homeless person, but the least we can do is engage (if possible) and not add to the otherness the people sleeping on the streets probably already feel. Something small like engaging with them or having a chat as you buy them a cup of tea, could make a big difference.
Giving your time is also a costless way to help – volunteering at a local shelter, foodbank (e.g. Nourish or Dover Foodbank) is a crucial part of supporting the homeless, and needed throughout the year. If you’re working, offering to help out at your local Job Club and sharing your insight is another way of supporting those who may currently be homeless get employment, and benefit from other long-term change.
At a council meeting at close of 2018, Graham Gibbens, cabinet member for public health chancellor, said Kent County Council is investing over £20 million in homeless charities over the next 4 years so “vulnerable residents in Kent can recover from homelessness and go on to live settled, independent and successful lives”.
In the summer, the government announced their intention to half rough sleeping by 2022 and end it by 2027. Tunbridge Wells, Canterbury, Maidstone and Thanet and secured around £1.4m of central funding to support this.
(*dates correct as of 1st February 2019, check your local shelter for the most up-to-date information)
https://www.beyondhomelessness.org.uk/ (Pathways to Independence, Medway & Kent)
http://www.thebridgetrust.org.uk/ (The Bridge Trust)
http://www.moretodogstrust.org.uk/hope-project/hope-project (Support for pets of homeless)
https://www.porchlight.org.uk/ (Across Kent)
https://www.riverside.org.uk/in-your-neighbourhood/kent/care-and-support/lily-smith-house-kent/ (Lily Smith House, Maidstone)
http://www.thanetsupport.co.uk/organisation.php?id=625 (Cliftonville Community Centre, Thanet)