Homelessness. It’s all over the country and it’s right under your nose when you’re walking down Exeter High Street. Devon Live commented on how “The number of rough sleepers in Devon has rocketed in the last seven years…and Exeter almost doubling”. When you’re walking down to get your weekly shop from Tesco’s, or maybe you’re going to grab a bite to eat in Princesshay, you’re bound to come across several homeless people asking for money or just wrapped up in their dishevelled sleeping bags. As a Londoner, I have seen my fair share of homeless people, but I was shocked when I first arrived at Exeter as I had never seen so many within a one-mile radius. It distresses me that the council and the government are not working hard enough to tackle this problem.
These people who ask you for a bit of change are just like you and me, but they might have taken the wrong path in life or they might just have had some unfortunate luck thrown at them. I know the feeling, they’re looking at you, asking “Could you spare any change, love?”. You look down helplessly and try to find any change you have, but you only find a 10p and you don’t want to insult them by giving it. So, you have to tell them you have no change and you feel this guilt wash over you as you feel so helpless. However, there are so many ways you can help to tackle this crisis.
Right, so you have no change on you, however, you can still help by offering them a drink or a snack, costing less than your Pret coffee. Not only that, there are so many charities you can get involved with to help reduce homelessness in Exeter. St Petrock’s is an Exeter based charity for those who are homeless or vulnerably housed and have helped over “8,200 individuals into accommodation”. You can donate money straight to their charity via their website, or even donate any clothes that you don’t wear lurking in the back of your closet, or maybe that sleeping bag you used for Reading festival. There is also the website Streetlink, where if you are really worried about someone sleeping rough you can report them, and an alert will be sent to connect them to local supporters. As a keen supporter for battling homelessness, I have joined with St David’s Church in Exeter to help out in the soup kitchen every Thursday from 6pm-7pm. If that sounds like your cup of tea, feel free to get in touch with the church as they would love an extra hand or two.
One question I would like to raise is what should the local council and the national government be doing to combat this issue? Personally, I think there should be more rehabilitation centres for the homeless, as many of them suffer from addiction or mental health problems which need ongoing support. Throwing them into a hostel or a bed and breakfast won’t solve the problem, as it will only create a vicious cycle in which they end up back on the streets, still suffering. There is hope! According to Gov UK, the Communities Secretary Sajid Javid, has set out a plan of action called the “Homelessness Reduction Act”, where a £30 million fund for 2018 to 2019, will be “targeted at local authorities with high numbers of people sleeping rough”. In addition, “the government is also working with the National Housing Federation to look at providing additional, coordinated move-on accommodation for rough sleepers”. Looking at Javid’s plans makes me feel optimistic; we may not eradicate homelessness completely, but we can definitely help to reduce the drastic numbers.
With winter crawling upon us, don’t forget about those who won’t have a roof over their head and remember that offering a warm drink, donating an old jumper or helping hand out soup will help remarkably. We can fight homelessness together!