Column: Show rough sleepers some humanity

Rough sleepers in Northampton
Rough sleepers in Northampton

I came across some really useful information from a homeless collective I follow on social media called Streets Kitchen providing information and a network for people living on the streets.

It was a guide to etiquette on how to address ‘panhandling’, otherwise known as requests for money.

There are three simple things to do: make eye contact, smile and show compassion.

You may be in a rush, you may or may not have money to donate, but you can make a person’s day a bit better by acknowledging their existence as a human being simply by saying ‘hello’ and carrying on with your day.

The advice states: ‘When you meet a fellow human who is asking for help, it may make you feel uncomfortable.

‘This does not mean that this person does not deserve the same rights as you.’

It’s strange how people suddenly become so very moralistic about people living on the streets or rough sleeping and how they may choose to spend money.

Quite frankly it’s none of our business, no more than when your employer gives you a pay cheque should you justify the transaction with a list of what you will buy or purchase.

The act of being kind by giving money should be the end in itself and added to that it’s always good to recommend local services.

In the words of the late great writer Herman Melville: ‘Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well- warmed, and well-fed.’

There’s a strong collective of organisations and networks providing a lifeline and support to people who are homeless or in crisis in Northampton.

Examples include Northampton Hope Centre and the Sikh community’s weekly hot meal provision on Abington Street, which serves over 100 hot meals on a weekly basis, as well as other crisis support points, including food banks.

However, it is very clear at the moment that we have an unacceptable tragedy unfolding in the UK.

According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalists, 300 people have died on the streets since 2013, but these deaths have gone unexamined.

An investigation by the Chronicle & Echo and associate journalists back in August highlighted the need for re-thinking the strategy to support rough sleepers here in Northampton, and this applies nationwide.

Furthermore, news reports state we are due an extremely cold and harsh winter in the UK this year and this will have consequences for the most vulnerable in our communities.

This will sadly no doubt increase the risk of yet more deaths on the streets.

We have a housing crisis in the UK and many national homelessness charities and organisations are calling on the Government to commit to real investment to build social housing stock.

This will go some way to tackling homelessness.

In terms of rough sleeping, local authorities should not shy away from working alongside homelessness charities and, most importantly, listening to the expertise of organisations such as Northampton Hope Centre and others.

There’s a very human story to every homeless person - always remember that.

So next time you see a rough sleeper, don’t look the other way - show a bit of kindness and humanity.