Q. I’d like a bit of advice on what’s the best way to help people who are homeless on the streets of Cardiff. I sometimes give people money but my partner feels this is not the best way to help as it does not resolve the issue. What do you advise members of the public to do when they come across someone who appears to be in need?
A. This is perhaps one of the most frequently asked questions but unfortunately it doesn’t have a clear cut answer. It depends on each individual and includes many factors that it would be both impossible and wrong for anyone to instantly assess or judge.
There is one important statistic – the average life expectancy of a man living on the streets in the UK is 47. So perhaps the question is ‘How can you help preserve life and help someone off the streets?’
One thing is clear. Just because someone is resigned to their situation and feels unable and unwilling to change it doesn’t make it a lifestyle choice. Our society is complicated and bureaucratic. Ducking below the radar and engaging in begging and other street culture activities can provide an escape from this, just not a sustainable one.
A good homelessness organisation, in my view, will meet an individual’s immediate needs and look then to helping the person overcome the barriers that prevent them escaping the cycle of homelessness. The danger is that giving money to homeless people and even providing ‘soup kitchens’ will only meet an immediate need. It won’t overcome any barriers, it won’t change things for the person it ‘helps’. It may even distract from the need to find a way to move forward and so thwart it.
Cardiff is fortunate to have unparalleled facilities and help for street homeless people aimed at getting people off the streets for good. The Huggard Centre sees 32,000 visits a year from 1,700 homeless and vulnerable people. We provide free and low cost meals, washing facilities, laundry service, clothes store, help, advice, training, activities, accommodation and support to identify and overcome the issues that homeless people face.
We work closely with the Gateway service based in the Council’s Housing Options Centre adjacent to Huggard. Gateway will allocate emergency accommodation on a daily basis, so it is really important that all street homeless people who want accommodation engage with the gateway service. To help with this the Council employ an Outreach Team to make contact with rough sleepers to provide support and direct them towards services.
In addition, the Wallich operates a free breakfast run every morning in the city centre, the Salvation Army’s Bus Project provides free food and advice Sunday to Thursday evenings at the museum steps and the Paradise Run hand out free food every evening behind Marks & Spencer.
It would therefore be tempting to say not to give money to homeless people but to support the services that are there to assist them in a structured way. That’s the easy and sensible answer. However, many people, not just homeless people, have issues and addictions and they are not always ready to make the choices that will benefit them the most. If someone needs money to meet their needs, whatever they may be, perhaps it is better that they are given that money freely and with a good heart. It may not move them forward but it might just stop them becoming even more excluded and desperate.
The bottom line is that you need to follow your conscience.
Richard Edwards, Chief Executive, Huggard