I'm the sort of person who cannot just walk past someone sleeping rough.
It’s a long time since my friends have invited me for a night out in the city centre, because they know I will spend the majority of the evening sitting outside on the ground, talking to the various people I meet along the way (sorry).
It eats me up to avert my eyes as I pass my fellow human beings lying in the cold, whilst the world (and I) carry on regardless, rushing to the comfort of our safe, warm homes and often insignificant distractions.
The rough sleepers I’ve encountered tell me one of the worst experiences of being homeless is the accompanying feeling of invisibility; I know one man who slept rough in the bustling city centre each night, yet didn’t speak to a soul for over three months. When I hear stories like this it makes me certain that I’m right to stop and talk - but it’s impossible to know how ‘ordinary’ people can really help when the problem is so vast - and ultimately, we are all so uncertain as to what is the correct approach to take.
For years - admittedly, to alleviate my own guilt as much anything - I gave loose change and bought food for those sleeping rough, without giving much thought at all to the bigger picture of homelessness. I somewhat naively thought that the best way I could help would be to share what I had materially; to aid someone’s survival and temporarily alleviate some of their discomfort – as well as some of my own.
Unfortunately, I now understand that the complex issues surrounding homelessness will never be solved this way.
In December 2015, I was asked to assist with support of the Manchester ‘Stock Exchange’ Homeless Initiative. Despite the fact I’d facilitated housing options to over one hundred of the region’s homeless and vulnerable during the previous couple of years, it’s fair to say this was more than a life-changing experience for me.
It shook me to the core to spend all day, every day in this world; living, eating and breathing it, becoming part of the community, a friend and confidant to those surviving it. And survival is what is was. Minute by minute, hour by hour. It isn’t living. Its barely existing. Its bleak. Its lonely. Frankly, its terrifying.
This raw and unedited encounter with rough sleeping altered my entire perception of the issues we are fighting- and the approaches I believe we should take. It made me more determined than ever that we must do everything within our power to help break the cycle of homelessness as we know it - and become unified in our quest for change.
In Manchester, we are currently awash with sleeping bags, soup and socks - yet our city streets are still littered with tents. Our rough sleeping community is presently is catered to with essential street support services around the clock, yet the number of individuals accessing services continues to rise.
Where are we going wrong?
Whilst an outpouring of compassion for the homeless is fantastic - it means humanity is alive with the love and desire to help those less fortunate - unfortunately, the flip-side of an abundance of giving ultimately leaves little incentive to break the cycle of ‘street life’. That bleak and lonely existence, we are all enabling, as we casually throw our coins into a cup.
The average life expectancy of a rough sleeper is just 47. This is not ok.
Giving is good when it enables us to create – we only need to look to John Bird OBE, founder of the Big Issue (and my personal idol), to see the impact social enterprise can potentially have on issues such as homelessness. We must push forward with the development of new techniques and ideas.
The concept of ‘Social Property Investment’ is all about bringing people together, thinking outside the box and combining the best with the best to combat homelessness - using an approach which begins with Housing First.
I believe via the development of this early-stage model we can enable a movement of ‘Citizens who Care’ - to collaborate and utilise their skills productively, to address homelessness with a response that is solution-focused, rather than directed towards repeated cycles of crisis resolution.
Social Strategies have already created some incredible outcomes for pilot scheme participants; taking over 100 from the streets into housing and giving them the sanctuary they need to rehabilitate from. Despite never receiving a penny in public funding, my practical research work demonstrates government savings in excess of £2.5 Million* to date.
Imagine what we could do if we all joined forces?
Anyone can invest their time, love or support in this strategy – collaboration is our key to positive and long-lasting change.
- Can you donate: Time, skills or resources to benefit rehabilitating or newly-housed rough sleepers?
- Do you work with a charity that can support property owners or managers working with vulnerable tenants?
- Could you become a mentor to somebody making a fresh start?
- Could your business act as a corporate sponsor to our practical research projects?
- Can you help us to spread the message on social media?
Become a champion of the ‘Social Property Investment’ movement just by spreading the word that we’ve found a solution to homelessness that really works!
If you'd like to help further, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can connect - or click the button below to donate.
Thankyou to all those amazing people that support and guide our projects already. I'm massively grateful for the support shown on social media and thankful for every comment, like and share.
*Savings calculated via Crisis Cost Effectiveness Indicator Tools