Homelessness is a huge issue facing the UK at the moment. After years of declining trends, 2010 marked a turning point when all forms of homelessness began to rise. In 2015, Government Statistics showed that 3569 people slept rough on any one night across England - over double the number recorded five years previously. That doesn't even take into account the UK's "hidden homeless"- those tens of thousands of people living in B&Bs, hostels, squatting, or staying on the sofa of a friend or relative.
Given the current economic climate, it's likely that homelessness will only increase, as the delayed effects of the economic downturn, a £7bn cut to housing benefits, welfare reform and other austerity measures all start to hit. This doesn't just mean more people will loose a roof over their head- a home is not just a physical space. Homes have legal and social dimensions, providing a sense of identity, belonging and emotional wellbeing.
This year we chose Whitechapel Liverpool as our local charity to sponsor for 2016, so we've learnt a lot about the amazing work they do and the wider cause and effects of homelessness. If you're concerned about homelessness in Liverpool or your community but you don't know the best way to help, here's a few things you can do.
Know your local charity
There's a huge amount of homeless charities registered in the UK, all of which help different groups of people. If you're concerned about the problem in your own community, find out which charities are working in your area. Many local agencies help get people off the street, so knowing who to call will make it easier when you see a rough sleeper who needs outreach support.
Do your research
Sadly there are many myths and misconceptions surrounding homelessness, which means we don't always know the best way to help. There are many ways you can support a homeless person and what you chose to give- be it a cup of coffee to a rough sleeper or money to a charity, is a personal choice- there's no right or wrong answer. However doing a little bit of research into the complex personal, social and structural factors that combine to make any one person become homeless, might help you decide on the most effective way you as an individual can help tackle the issue.
Call 'No Second Night'
If you see someone sleeping rough or are worried about someone who might be sleeping on the streets of Liverpool tonight, tell Whitechapel about it by calling No Second Night. As their mantra goes, there may be a million reasons why someone sleeps rough for one night, but there's no reason anyone should sleep rough a second night.
Most local homeless charities offer a similar service, so if you don't live in Liverpool just do a bit of research, but remember to ask first. Some rough sleepers may not know this support is available, but others may not want it.
Support a campaign
Most charities run powerful campaigns throughout the year to push for donations and raise awareness, and there's so many ways you can support them. Spreading the word on social media, hosting an event with work, or telling friends and family about a campaign that's grabbed your attention are simple and easy ways to raise the profile of its message and the charity as a whole.
This month Whitechapel & Healthy Foods Online have teamed up to raise awareness about unnecessary food wastage within companies and to encourage donations of food to the homeless. Click here to find out more.
— Charity Choice UK (@charity_choice) July 10, 2016
Fundraise for a homeless charity
There's a million fun and easy ways you can raise money in your community, from doing something you love like hosting your own Come Dine With Me, to something you hate like taking a bath in baked beans. Simply set up a Justgiving page and shout about what you're doing. You'll soon see the donations flooding in.
Partake in a sponsored event
Many homeless charities organise sponsored events you can take part in to help fundraise for them. Simply check on their websites to find out what's going on in your area. Fun Runs, bike rides, and sponsored sport events take place all year round on a national scale, so there's loads you can do to help.
This October, Whitechapel are organising a sponsored sleep-out outside St Nick's Church, and it's not too late to sign up...
— Whitechapel Centre (@WhitechapelLiv) July 8, 2016
Whether you choose to work at a charity shop, a food bank or offer advice and support to people in vulnerable situations, volunteering is an invaluable way to help and support any cause you are passionate about.
Many people feel guilty walking past rough sleepers and want to give them money or loose change. However, research shows that support centres and charities can make your money go further. For example, £1 given straight to a rough sleeper on the street might buy them a snack, but £1 given to a support network can provide two freshly cooked breakfasts, making your pound go further.
This year Liverpool City Council, The Whitechapel Centre, and The Liverpool BID Company developed ‘Chang£?’, a campaign to highlight and inform the most effective way of helping rough sleepers, whilst offering a way to support Liverpool’s homeless services. Click here to read more about it.
Buy clothes from charity shops
Shopping in a charity store is a great way to ensure all your donations are being used in the best way possible, and donating unwanted clothes to them really helps too. In Liverpool, a Whitechapel store has opened on Allerton road, (L18, 1LN) but that's not the only one. www.Charitychoice.co.uk is a great way of finding out where your local charity and charity shops are based.
Support wider efforts to tackle the cause
Tackling the issue is as much about preventing people from losing their homes as it is about helping people who already have. Many complex factors can cause someone to become vulnerable to homelessness; domestic violence, metal illness, a job loss or a breakdown in family relationships are just a few. Supporting efforts to protect people in these vulnerable situations will help prevent the number of homeless people increasing. It's also a great way to challenge the stereotypes associated with homeless people.