Helping The Homeless in Brum

For many, the festive season can be an extremely lonely and difficult time. We all go through ups and downs and there will be many people struggling for one reason or another right now.

It said that we’re all just three pay packets away from being homeless, and the last resort is sleeping rough. For some, rough sleepers and street beggars are a nuisance, for others it’s an uncomfortable and distressing sight and there can be a feeling of helplessness, do you give money, food, or should you stop and ask if they are OK?

The Facts

beggar-007The Guardian Newspaper reported that from Oct to Dec 2011, Birmingham had the highest number of homeless people in England, with 925 households classed as homeless and 2012/13 statistics from Shelter Homeless charity state that the West Midlands had 12,395 households found to be homeless, this figure was second only to London which had 22,279. This isn’t every person without a home in England – only those accepted as unintentionally homeless by their local authority.

The Guardian also reported that reasons for homelessness can be wide ranging, including parents no longer able to accommodate, violent relationship breakdown, home repossessed and rent arrears.

According to www.homeless.org.uk, between 2010 and autumn 2013, the number of rough sleepers on England’s streets rose by 37%. There are well in excess of 200 rough sleepers in the West Midlands in 2013, this is just the people who have been recorded. The BBC have reported that no one truly knows how many homeless people there are out there at any one time.

A 2013 news report by the Birmingham Mail explained that West Midlands Police conducted an eight-week initiative into begging and found more than six out of ten down-and-outs arrested for begging in Birmingham city centre had their own home. Twelve others were also arrested as part of the initiative, two for the fraudulent sale of the Big Issue magazine and ten for breaking court orders and behaviour, however all 40 of those arrested failed drug tests.

West Midlands Police state that a large proportion of beggars are battling drug, alcohol or gambling addictions and want to better their lives. They also explain on their website that Police in Birmingham city centre are getting tough on begging with the help of five-and-a-half thousand pounds of funding from the Proceeds of Crime Act. The cash is being pumped into an initiative which gives people an opportunity to get off the streets before they face the prospect of arrest and an appearance in court.

Benefit reforms by central government have given increased powers to local authorities, and in many cases homeless will now require a two year connection with the city (increased from 6 months previously) before they can be rehoused in council accommodation. This places a lot of pressure on various other homeless charities who are not funded but who are open to all.

For those who are still sceptical, you may like to read some real life stories of those living on the street read The Birmingham Hunger Journal.

Who Is Supporting The Homeless?

Midland Heart

soup-kitchenMidland Heart’s Homeless Service is the first point of access for homeless services and support for vulnerable adults in Birmingham (Single Point of Access). They provide hostels, supported accommodation, a multiple needs unit, and accommodation for people in recovery from drug and alcohol issues.

Midland Heart work in partnership with Birmingham Supporting People, Freshwinds, Adullam, Stonham and Trident and they help with:

  • Housing advice and support
  • Outreach for rough sleepers
  • Help and support for sex workers
  • Help and advice for substance misuse
  • Support for offenders
  • Support for other vulnerable adults

Midland Heart offer a package of support if people have more than one need. They own over 32,000 homes and can assist people to find accommodation across the Midlands. They also run the city’s main rough sleeper unit who work through the night checking on rough sleepers, especially in colder weather where there is more risk of hypothermia. The offices are open during the week Monday to Friday with a rough sleeper hotline working outside of office hours.

SIFA Fireside

SIFA Fireside works seven days a week with some of the most vulnerable adults in our society: those experiencing homelessness or who are vulnerably-housed. Many of the people SIFA work with are affected by alcohol, facing mental and physical health problems or otherwise socially excluded. They run a daily Drop-In Service where they provide on average 1031 breakfasts, 2009 lunches and 429 showers each month for their clients.

The Drop-In sessions are the frontline of SIFA Fireside’s operations, acting as a gateway for their clients to access other longer-term support services.

All services SIFA Fireside provides are free and confidential. They are funded by Birmingham City Council, charitable donations, corporate sponsors, funding awards, fund raising and income generation, including from their social enterprise. SIFA employ more than 30 full and part-time staff, with over 60 active volunteers working on a regular basis to make the day-to-day running of our services possible. SIFA Fireside also provides specialist training programmes, offering access to their expertise gained from over 30 years of service delivery.

St Basils

St Basils is not a church, but it was given to the city by the then diocese and helps those from 16-21 who find themselves homeless. Their ‘Nightstop’ schemes, accredited by and established in line with the national DePaul model, operate in Birmingham, Solihull and Coventry and help ensure all young people have a safe home to go to.

Nightstop takes away much of the risk associated with helping a ‘stranger’ as these young people are already known to St Basils, have had a full assessment including a risk assessment and a through matching process is applied to any posting.

St Basils already runs a very successful Supported Lodgings scheme across Birmingham, Solihull where young people stay with a host for several months and receive support from both the host and St Basils staff.

Birmingham City Council

Youth Hub is for all 16 and 17 year olds who are homeless or threatened with homelessness and all couples or single people aged 18-20 without children, who are homeless or threatened with homelessness, including pregnant women.

The Council may also be able to offer advice on other options to prevent your homelessness for those who believe they have nowhere to live or are about to lose their home. The network of neighbourhood offices across Birmingham provides homeless prevention advice and information for all customers ranging from council tenants to private tenants to owner occupiers to people who don’t have their own home. Home Options is a high quality, multi-agency advice and homeless prevention scheme.

Those who are experiencing Domestic Violence or antisocial behaviour and need to leave their home immediately, are advised to go to the neighbourhood office during office hours or phone the emergency accommodation out of hours number: 0121 303 2296 or go to the nearest police station if outside of office hours.

Local Churches

There are several churches and religious groups who carry out some valuable work with the homeless too, from soup kitchens to temporary accommodation, here is an example:

Birmingham City Mission offers supported accommodation for both men and women, and their Care Centre is open to non-residents Mon – Wed evening. On Tuesday and Wednesday nights the Care Centre is open to all-comers. Each evening a hot meal is provided, plus other food which can be taken away. The Gospel is always shared with those who attend, either directly (through preaching) or else through testimony and personal conversations. On Sunday mornings a church service is held at the Care Centre for the homeless.

Salvation Army accept self referrals and referrals from any agency. They have 18 full time support staff, 24 hour waking cover. Keyworker system (6 residents per worker), with bi-weekly meetings and support plan reviews. Action plans with agreed outcomes reviewed as necessary. Provide advice and help with independent living skills, training, education and employment. Staff provide housing advice and help with applications and viewing properties and offer furniture packs.

Midland Langar Seva Society helps the homeless and provides food and hunger relief to those that need really need it. Langar is the term used in the Sikh religion or in Punjab for general or common kitchen or canteen where food is served for free. The society only receives donations in food. No monetary donations are taken. Food donations are taken out to sites, at least five times a week to Birmingham, Walsall, Wolverhampton & various other sites across the Midlands.

Socks And Chocs

A lot of people doing a little, is better than a few people doing a lot. That’s the motto of ex armed serviceman Ian Northcott (AKA the “Busking Bobby”). In 2010 he decided he wanted to do something to help the homeless people of Birmingham – and that’s where Socks and Chocs began.

Their main objectives are: Raise awareness of the importance of foot care within the homeless community. Organise the annual Socks and Chocs event, coordinating donations. Organise delivery of donations to homeless centres. To promote the idea of treating homeless people with humanity. The central themes of this objective being “A smile, not a sandwich”. To raise awareness of www.streetlink.org.uk to connect rough sleepers to local services.

Homeless Link

Homeless Link are the national membership charity for organisations working directly with people who become homeless in England. They work to make services better and campaign for policy change that will help end homelessness.

Homeless Link support organisations to make services better for the people they support, and campaign for policy change that will help end homelessness.

Other aspects of Homeless Link include The Homelessness Transition Fund, a £20 million grants programme set up as part of the Government’s strategy to tackle rough sleeping and Street Link, an England-wide phone-line, website and mobile app which enables the public to alert Local Authorities about people sleeping rough in their area.

The Big Issue

The Big Issue is a magazine sold by homeless and long-term unemployed people across the country, with many vendors in Birmingham. Vendors buy copies for £1.25 and sell for £2.50. They are working, not begging.

Since The Big Issue was launched in 1991 they have helped thousands of vulnerable people take control of their lives. The organisation currently work with around 2000 individuals across the UK offering them the opportunity to earn a legitimate income; to ‘help them to help themselves’.

Vendors undergo an induction process and sign up to a code of conduct. They are allocated a pitch and issued with a number of free copies of the magazine. Earning an income is the first step on the journey away from poverty and The Big Issue Foundation, a registered charity, exists to link vendors with vital support and services (Some nice words from the editor about Birmingham).

Reconnected

Reconnected work with individuals who have suffered or faced homelessness, without prejudice or passing judgement on their past, they take time to help them get their lives back on track.

Reconnected do this by offering safe and secure accommodation alongside support to specialist services, access training, voluntary and employment opportunities.

What Can I Do To Help?

Useful Info

sleeping-bags-and-hatsThis is a tough question. Traditionally most people will either give money or food however, The Ipswich Locality Homelessness Partnership ask people not to give food, hot drinks or money to beggars claiming their “kindness could kill”.

The Ipswich Locality Homelessness Partnership, which includes Suffolk Police and local councils, says offering food leaves beggars with more money to buy drugs and alcohol.

Closer to home, Sgt Lee Howard of West Midlands Police said begging had become a major problem in Birmingham city centre, particularly for the business community. He said there were now plans for an alternative giving scheme to help drive beggars off the streets. “We’re hoping an alternative giving scheme can be launched in the city to make sure money people are willing to donate finds its way to the people who need it most.”

Members of the public are being urged to think about alternatives to donating cash to beggars in the city centre, which is often used to feed an addiction. Officers are working with local organisations to set up an alternative giving scheme which encourages people to give an extra £1 on their bill in a cafe or restaurant, which is then put towards assisting rehabilitation in terms of education and providing work based skills. This is a long term vision and some people will still react to a natural instinct to offer cigarettes, food or money.

There are lots of brilliant ways to help make life a little better for homeless people, here are just a few suggestions locally:

Inform Street Link of Rough Sleepers

The Street Link charity offers the public a means to act when they see someone sleeping rough by enabling them to alert the local authority. You can tell Street Link about a rough sleeper via its app or online at www.streetlink.org.uk. You can download the Street Link app for your phone.

Street Link say that: “The longer someone sleeps rough, the greater the risk that they will become trapped on the streets and vulnerable to becoming a victim of crime, developing drug or alcohol problems, or experiencing problems with their health.”

Rough sleepers may not be known to local services because they remain out of sight, bedding down at different times of day or night, and moving from place to place. Not all rough sleepers are aware that advice and support is available to them.

By telling Street Link about someone who is sleeping rough, you will help to connect that person to the local services available. They are funded by the Government as part of its commitment to end rough sleeping.

Common questions

  • Should I ask people about their situation?

There is no need to approach someone you don’t know to ask them about their situation. This is the job of local services. All you need to do is contact Street Link and give them some details about the person sleeping rough.

  • What about people I have seen sleeping rough for a long time?

Some people may have a longer history of rough sleeping, be known to local services and may require longer term support to help them leave the streets. This can include people who suffer with mental health issues or who cannot access services in the area in which they are rough sleeping. You can still use StreetLink to tell them about these people. Their situation may mean that you do not see a change take place straight away.

  • What about people who are on the street but who may not be rough sleeping?

Some people who appear to be sleeping rough may be engaged in street activities, such as drinking or begging, but in fact have somewhere to stay. They may need a different type of response from local services, and this may mean that you do not see a change straight away.

This doesn’t mean your alert to Street Link is wasted: It’s always better to get in touch about someone you think may be rough sleeping, so that local services can provide support if needed.

Donate to St Basils

St Basils already runs a very successful Supported Lodgings scheme across Birmingham, Solihull where young people stay with a host for several months and receive support from both the host and St Basils staff.

They are in need of financial donations to pay for travel to and from the Hosts house either for day savers or taxis to reduce the chances of a young person getting lost. As well as economic factors, Young people are most likely to become homeless due to relationship and family breakdown. In some cases this is due to domestic violence.

Many in need of emergency accommodation have not had the time to pack toiletries or even a change of clothes.

Currently St Basils are in need of new: Toothbrushes, Toothpaste, Hairbrushes/Combs, Hairbands, Deodorant, Flannels, Sanitary towels, Underwear, Socks, Nightwear, Unisex Onesie’s, Jogging bottoms, Lightweight Dressing gowns, Towels (small and large), Duvet covers, Mattress cover/fitted sheets, Pillow cases.

If you can help with donations of any of these items, or to donate money and take part in a fundraising event please contact Yvette or Mark from the Home2Home team on 0121 772 2483 or visit www.stbasils.org.uk/help-us

Donate to SIFA Fireside

SIFA Fireside provides free and confidential support for the homeless, being on the front line of those in desperate need. They are funded by Birmingham City Council, charitable donations, corporate sponsors, funding awards, fund raising and income generation, including from their social enterprise.

SIFA Fireside are in current need of: Tinned food (within date), Packets of food (e.g rice, pasta, noodles),Jars of sauce (e.g pasta sauces, jams, cooking sauces). Please note they are unable to accept any perishable food unless it can be consumed immediately.

Adult sized clothing in good condition, Adult shoes & trainers,Coats, hats, gloves and scarves, Sleeping bags, Toiletries (razors, shower gel, shampoo, soaps, toothbrushes), Washing powder, Standard sized plastic bags. To see a list of items we are desperately in need of. Click here to visit their Amazon wishlist, you can purchase the items for SIFA and they will be sent direct to the organisation! See also: www.sifafireside.co.uk/volunteering and www.justgiving.com/sifafireside/donate

Donate to Socks and Chocs

Socks and Chocs accepts socks, new or second hand (need to be clean and in pairs). Chocolates are also accepted, individual bars, boxes, family size bars.

You can also donate Sleeping Bags (clean, new or second hand, preferably small/compact), underwear – pants, vests, new only, hats (woolly hats, caps, clean, new or second hand). socksandchocs.co.uk/donate

Donate to Street Link

Your support will help Homless.org.uk achieve a country where everyone has a place to call home.

A donation will help Homeless.org.uk continue to: support frontline services to improve help for people who face homelessness,   research the deep causes of homelessness – and the approaches that help people out of it, run Street Link, putting people sleeping rough in touch with the services they need and work with housing, health, addiction and other sectors, to make sure people are supported by services that work together not in isolation. www.homeless.org.uk/donate

Donate to Reconnected

You can make a donation of money, goods or services via Reconnected. Reconnected will identify the appropriate organisation which would benefit from your generous donation and gift it on your behalf.

This would suit those who do not want to work on large scale projects but would like to contribute towards the sustainability of their local community. Reconnected does not take any commission or percentage of donations therefore 100% of your donation will be passed on. www.reconnected.org.uk

Donate to Crisis

Crisis is the national charity for single homeless people. They are dedicated to ending homelessness by delivering life-changing services and campaigning for change and do some great work across the Midlands. www.crisis.org.uk/donate

 Volunteer

Whatever you choose to do, whether it be volunteering for one of the churches, donating goods or money, or possibly a sponsored event to the charities listed, if you feel like you want to do something but are unsure, hopefully this should help you make that decision.

At the very least, to acknowledge someone on the street, even if it is to say “Hello” as you are passing or “sorry I can’t stop but I’ll donate to a homeless charity”, could let them know someone out there cares about their situation.

Some people will still buy food, donate a cigarette or money, ultimately it is down to the individual, but the evidence suggests the best way is to alert the athorities to anyone you are concerned about and not give money or food to help further their addiction. Some people might buy a book of inspiration for a street person, one great title is “A Street Cat Named Bob” by James Bowen.

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