Three misconceptions about rough sleeping
1. “It is easy to help people who are sleeping rough”
Getting people off the streets can be very difficult. Indeed, in our experience it’s rarely as simple as just finding them a place to stay. That’s because people who sleep rough are normally experiencing a series of interwoven problems and challenges, including mental and physical ill-health, alcohol and drug addiction, and a history of offending. Some of the people we find are experiencing all of these problems at the same time. Indeed, it’s often the case that somebody’s homelessness is actually the very least of their problems.
2. “Everyone sleeping rough wants help”
As strange as it may sound some of the people we find sleeping rough do not want to accept our help. This does not mean they enjoy living on the streets or are in some way making a lifestyle choice; it simply means they have become entrenched in a cycle that is very difficult to arrest. Many of the people we help have a fundamental distrust of statutory agencies like the police and local authorities – often because of traumatic experiences in the past. Others simply feel that their situation is hopeless and that nobody can help them. That means that they can be very dismissive (and even hostile) when we first meet them. The job of our outreach teams is to establish a level of rapport with people and establish regular contact with them – often via our telephone hotline funded by the public. Once relationships are built and trust is established we can start to make progress in getting people off the streets.
3. “The best way to help street homeless people is to give them food, clothes and money”
The desire to help people in need is always commendable, but it is vital that the right kind of support is offered if lasting change is to be achieved. Many street homeless people are living with problems that no amount of gifts or short-term interventions can remedy. Street homelessness is nearly always a multi-faceted problem that requires a long term solution including accommodation, specialist treatment and personal development. The provision of food, clothes and money can play a role in expressing human warmth and emotion, but can never be a substitute for the kind of structured, professional help people need. In some cases gifts of money can actually prove counter-productive because it can help to sustain activities like drug and alcohol abuse and provide a barrier to engagement with support services.