Another day, another outstanding guest blog. This piece was submitted by talented blogger Claudia Thomas, who you can find on Instagram: @claudiachatsabout. I will keep the intro short, and let the piece speak for itself. Let’s all think about what we can do on an individual level to combat this issue. LW
Homelessness is something that we’re all aware of, you only have to walk around a city centre and see a vulnerable person begging for shelter. Most of the time, we’re so wrapped up in our own busy lives to even acknowledge them as the human beings they are, let alone give any spare change. This is an easier option, to frankly ignore the dehumanisation that so many homeless people face. Often we don’t want to think about the horrors of homelessness, so we choose to ignore it, or brand these people as it ‘being their own fault.’ But I really want to change the stigma surrounding homelessness, and make sure that we’re all being a little bit more empathetic.
I first started noticing the injustices of homelessness when I was around twelve years old. My mum started volunteering at The Wellspring in Stockport, and during school holidays I would also join her and volunteer. When I was unable to help out because of school, I would make batches of cupcakes to take in, and these quickly became known as the treat of ‘Claudia’s cupcakes.’ I suppose the discrimination of homeless people has always been something that’s upset me, and I feel if we are in a position to be able to help, we should.
Homelessness is an increasing worry for many people in the UK. At the end of 2019, a report from The Guardian stated that in the UK the homeless rate increased by 11.4%. An extremely terrifying thought. Homeless people are often stigmatised as troublemakers and burdens to society, when often they are not.
Furthermore, thanks to COVID-19, many of the UK’s most vulnerable were housed in hotels and given emergency accommodation during the outbreak, as hotels were obviously not being used. A really excellent scheme to have in place, however, it is difficult to know how long this support will last as lockdown eases, and hotels are needed again.
A conversation that really sticks out to me was meeting a homeless boy. He was a similar age to me, and I think that is why the conversation is so memorable. At the time of the conversation, he said he literally had nothing, as the little possessions he had been keeping in a tent had been deliberately burnt. I can’t even imagine how this would feel, returning from a day of begging on the streets to that. We need to do more to help the most vulnerable feel more human.
So, in order to help a homeless person, here are a few things we can all do to help and end this stigma. At first it will be hard and uncomfortable, as many of us don’t want to acknowledge the huge divide in our society. But, if we all take a step back and think about what we can offer to homeless individuals, however small, we will see big changes and may even make someone’s day.
Firstly, take time to talk and acknowledge them. Recent events have forced us all to decelerate our usually busy lives, it really doesn’t take much to stop and chat with someone who is begging on the streets. Think about it yourself; if you pass somebody and they smile and acknowledge you, it is almost guaranteed that you will feel better. Conversation and small interactions such as these are so important and valued to us as human beings, and this does not exclude people who are homeless. Listen to their stories, learn about their truths, and then maybe think of ways that you as an individual can help.
Donate. I know there are ongoing debates on whether to directly give homeless people money, but perhaps it could be made simpler by offering them a sandwich as you’re getting one for yourself on your lunch break. A further example that my family do at Christmas is create wrapping papered shoeboxes filled with supplies and treats as a little Christmas present, for those who have spent the festive period out on the streets. Furthermore, there are so many incredible homeless charities online that you can donate to, such as Shelter, and more locally in Manchester, The Booth Centre. Donations don’t have to actual money either, they could be unwanted clothes that could get a few more wears out of them, or left over food that could be put to good use at a shelter. Small gestures such as these can go a long way.
Volunteer. This might be at your local Shelter charity shop, or at a homeless shelter as previously mentioned. Your time is precious and most certainly valued, and is a direct and positive way of helping the most vulnerable. As I mentioned earlier, my time volunteering at The Wellspring was such a positive one that I knew many people were grateful for, so perhaps if it’s something you want to try, then go and do so!