How you can help

Help The Homeless, Vulnerable and Needy has a Facebook group with over 9,000 members and the most common enquiries are about how members of the general public can help. Here we post our best tips and suggestions as recommended by the members of that page. Hopefully you will find a way that fits in with what and how you can offer to help.

Here are our pick of the top ten tips for how to make a difference very easily.

  1. Smile. A friendly face is so much nicer to see than a grumpy or stern face. Remember – your attitude can make or break someone’s day.
  2. Get down to their level. Talking at them from above is not only quite rude but it is also quite intimidating and perpetrates the feeling of being a lesser person some how. If you can;t get down to their level because of health issue (for example) apologise to them so they know that you would if you could.
  3. Ask their name. Many homeless people start to feel invisible so using their name during conversations helps to reinforce that they do have an identity and they are worth something.
  4. If you are wanting to buy food or a drink for them – give them a choice. Don;t assume that they all drink coffee – they may prefer hot chocolate (for example). Giving them the choice also helps to reinforce that their opinion is worth something.
  5. Check if they have registered as homeless. If not suggest that they do. This could get them some much needed help and support and can use places such as the Dawn Centre as a c/o address.
  6. Listen to them when you chat. If you are going to take the time to stop and talk to someone give them the courtesy to talk to you as well. Again this reinforces self worth and helps them lose some of the feeling of invisibility.
  7. If they have a dog talk to them about it. Many of these dogs are the sole companions and often the strength that helps them go on and we all love to hear how lovely our pet/child is and someone on the street is likely to be the same.
  8. Offer them items from your care pack. It is the little things that can make a huge difference. In the cold weather a lip salve can be the difference between painful lips or a bit of comfort. A clean pair of pants can be the difference between feeling humiliated or feeling human.
  9. If you want to collect items to donate to one of the drop in centres or food kitchens check that they are needed at the moment. Whilst they don’t want to appear ungrateful if they have been given 20 duvets on one night and only 10 are needed they then need to be stored – and that is often in a volunteer’s hallway, garage, shed or car. Also be prepared to stay and help hand them out if you can.
  10. If you are able – volunteer at one of the centres or food kitchens. Become a collection point for one of the drives and try and correct the myths whenever you hear them. Mis-education makes everyone’s lives so much harder.

If you are heading into town and are able it is always great to have some of the following items with you in case you see someone in need. You don’t need to wander around with all of it (unless you really want to) but these items are relatively easy to have in your bag “just in case”. Please check the What Not To Do section as well about certain items not to have.

  • Socks
  • Gloves
  • Underwear
  • Foil Emergency Blanket
  • Lip Salve
  • Snacks
  • Chocolate
  • Tissues or wipes
  • Soap
  • Toothpaste
  • Toothbrush
  • Roll On Deodorant (not sprays)
  • Sanitary products
  • Paper, pencils and a small puzzle book
  • Book (many like to read to pass the time)
  • Dog treats (many have dogs as companions)

Many people, in their desire to help, often overlook things that can cause a problem for the homeless or rough sleepers. Here we try to help with some pointers of what not to do.

  • Don’t put yourself at risk.
  • Don’t give razors, alcoholic mouth wash or aerosols that can be sniffed, used or abused.
  • Don’t give medication of any sort. There could be a detrimental effect if they are on any prescribed medications or they have a drug problem.
  • Don’t give cash. This is a controversial one sometimes but the belief is that a genuine rough sleeper or homeless person would appreciate the items mentioned in the Care Pack section whereas cash can be used to fund a drink or drug problem – or someone who is a professional beggar as opposed to genuinely in need.
  • Don’t wake them up if they are asleep. Many people may not have had a great night sleep and may wake up belligerent or unsure of surroundings.
  • Don’t expect everyone you speak to to want help or be grateful when you do help them. The majority of homeless people are grateful and well mannered but occasionally (as in all walks of life) you can get people who are just the other way inclined.
  • Don’t take photos unless you ask and have a reason to do so. Many of the volunteers will take a photo (with permission only) to build a portfolio for aid purposes. Would you like a random stranger (albeit a nice one with good intentions) suddenly snapping you on their smartphone?

There are so many myths and lies generated by various factions when it comes to someone who is homeless, vulnerable or in need that it can sometimes be difficult to see beyond the “bearded and bedraggled junkie alcoholic criminal” at your feet. Here we try to dispel some of those myths from experience of working with them.

  • “All homeless people are junkies or alcoholics!”
    Wrong! Yes there are a few but many of them either turned to alcohol or drugs to forget a past or to keep warm. Many on the streets are on prescribed drugs and many are totally clean.
  • “All homeless people are criminals!”
    Yes some have come out of prison (often after a petty crime) and found themselves on the street but many more are not.
  • “S/He has a mobile phone therefore can’t possibly be in need!”
    Often a mobile phone is donated and maintained by volunteers to try and help the homeless person stay safe or in contact with relevant agencies or the volunteers themselves.
  • “S/He isn’t homeless – I’ve seen them go into a flat!”
    Many people who are on the streets do have squats or ‘sofa surf’ but that does not detract from the fact that they may still be in a vulnerable position and in need of help. Having a roof overhead does not mean you have a home.
  • “I see him /her in the pub every day! If they can afford to drink they don’t need help!”
    Many establishments will allow a homeless person to use the toilet facilities or to refill drinks bottles. Many offer cheap (or free) meals and many are hot water refill stations. Just because they walk into a pub does not mean they are drinking in there.
  • “They only have a dog to get your sympathy or get more money!”
    Nearly every single one of the homeless people we have met with a dog has had it as a companion – a friend in an otherwise lonely world. The dog is often much better looked after than they themselves are and they will often sacrifice a night undercover if the dog can’t be taken in as well.
  • “They were offered help but they refused! They can’t be that much in need then!”
    Sometimes there are many complex issues behind why a person is homeless. This may be mental health issues, abuse issues, grief, lack of self esteem, etc. Sometimes these reasons prevent the homeless person from trusting or they may have had a bad experience in a shelter and are very wary. Sometimes they simply aren’t in the right state of mind to move off the street where they have found a way of surviving. Sometimes the hospices are so regulated that they simply can’t cope or they have a dog and can’t find anywhere that would let it in. And yes – not everyone wants help but that doesn’t make them any less vulnerable.
  • “S/He is only after your money!”
    There are occasionally professional beggars who will actively hound for money. These people are NOT genuine and are causing mistrust for those who are really in need. If you offer something from your care pack or food or a drink and they refuse but still ask for money then the chances are that they are professional but the majority of genuine homeless people will be polite, and grateful for small mercies.