In my national role I travel a great deal and have spent more time in train stations then I would care to mention! But one thing I have noticed during my travels is that rough sleeping and the number of people who are begging near or around these train stations has increased. According to the latest figures from Homeless Link, collected in the autumn of 2017 and published in January 2018, 4,751 people are estimated to be sleeping rough on any one night. This marks an increase of 15% from 2016 to 2017, and 169% since 2010.
It is a very personal decision on whether you choose to give money to people who are begging on the streets – personally I find it very difficult to walk by and carry on my day as normal.
Different people and organisations will give you differing advice on whether to offer people money, some highlighting that it may trap them in a cycle of homelessness, others stating that it will be spent on fuelling drug or alcohol addiction. We are also warned about “gangs of beggars” linked to organised crime. I would say that there are many reasons why a person ends up homeless and many are vulnerable people who need support to survive. All of these people are someone’s family member, someone’s son or daughter. They are human beings.
Alternative giving is a form of gift giving in which a person makes a donation to a combined fund on the gift recipient’s behalf, rather than giving them an item directly. This principal was used when Riverside worked with the City of Manchester Local Authority and other local partners to launch Big Change MCR. In two years since this service started it has provided nearly £200k to help more than 750 people.
Based on the Big Change MCR model, supported by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, Riverside are now supporting the roll out of an ‘alternative giving’ scheme across the area. The ‘Real Change’ campaigns aim to raise funds from businesses and the public to directly support people in their local area experiencing homelessness. It uses funds generated to pay for items which directly help people to move off the streets or avoid homelessness: things like a deposit for a home, a training course, shoes or clothes for a job interview.
Real Change takes the dilemma out of giving to people who are begging or sleeping rough, as donations go towards getting people the support they need to get their lives back on track. We have shown in Manchester that if we all work together and give collectively, small change can make a massive difference to help people change their future for the better and reduce the amount of people sleeping rough and begging on the streets.
I am therefore delighted that today, on World Homeless day, Real Change Wigan and Leigh, the first Real Change campaign is launching. As well as the homeless services that Riverside and others provide in the area, Real Change Wigan and Leigh is going to make a huge difference to people in local communities who are affected by homelessness.