With an estimated 200 people on the streets in Leeds, it’s time to make a big change…
Every day, we see vulnerable people on our streets, and we want to help, but it’s hard to know what to do – a cup of coffee, a sandwich, a few coins, they may meet an immediate need, but they won’t solve the wider problem. No one person can do that, which is why we need Big Change Leeds. This new alternative-giving platform will help you channel your time, energy and donations into projects that will bring lasting change to people’s lives.
The challenge facing Leeds
Homelessness is a complex beast. It’s not as simple as just putting a roof over someone’s head. Every person, every problem, every journey to recovery is different, so you often have to deal with the issues that are making a person homeless before you can put them in accommodation.
“Nobody needs to sleep rough on the streets of Leeds,” Councillor Debra Coupar, Executive Board Member for Communities, explained. “We have beds available, we’ve got a very good cold weather protocol – if the temperature drops below freezing, we put in extra resources to make sure we’ve got beds, so we can get people out of the cold. But sometimes we have a job on our hands persuading people to come in.”
That may seem hard to believe, but you have to remember these are complex people. Some have mental health issues, others are dealing with addiction or financial problems, so it’s not uncommon for them to refuse help, especially if it would mean giving up the lifestyle choices that led them here. And even when these people move into accommodation, they don’t necessarily leave the streets. In fact, not everyone who appears homeless is, many already have shelter, be it a tenancy, emergency accommodation or a bed at somewhere like St George’s Crypt. But because accommodation isn’t always the problem, it isn’t always the answer either.
What is the answer?
Over the last 6 months, the city’s approach to vulnerable people on the streets has fundamentally changed, and while you may not see it yet, it’s already starting to make a difference. In September, Leeds City Council launched the new Street Support Team. The 21-strong team, which includes mental health, addiction and housing experts, works directly with street users to identify their issues and offer personalised support.
“All the individuals who have been identified on the streets will have a case worker, in a similar way that you might expect to have a caseworker in social services with a vulnerable child, that individual then has someone to support them,” Karen Butler Head of Place Management at LeedsBID, told us. “Previously, numerous third-party organisations would all engage with the same individual, but they could only deliver their one bit of the puzzle. Now it’s a continuous service, it’s more joined up.”
It’s not about hiding the problem or sweeping it under the carpet, it’s about safeguarding vulnerable people on the streets and working with individuals one-on-one to help them transition to a better, safer lifestyle. So while you may not see the difference straight away, it’s already having a lasting impact on people’s lives.
And now you can help too
Homelessness isn’t a problem that sits solely with the council, we all want to help, which is why LeedsBID, Leeds City Council and Leeds Community Foundation have joined forces to create Big Change. It’s a new campaign that brings people, businesses and charitable organisations together to maximise the impact of their actions, so if you want to help, you can do it in the best possible way.
Education has a huge role to play here, because despite our best intentions, sometimes we can do more harm than good. “It’s not straight-forward, it’s really complex, and taking somebody from the habit of giving is hard,” Butler explained. “Whether it’s cash, a sandwich or three meals a day, what you do is increase the dependency of that person, you tie them to that spot on the street because they know they can sit there and wait for things to arrive, so they don’t engage in other positive ways.”
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give to the homeless, it just means you should channel it into something positive – and Big Change can help you do that. As part of the campaign, they’ve brought together 67 organisations that are all working to get people off the streets in Leeds, and they’ve given them a platform to reach people like us, people who want to help, but maybe don’t know how.
Think of it as an alternative way of giving
Instead of buying a sandwich or a coffee for someone on the streets, why not put that money into the Big Change Funding Pot? It works a little like grant funding – organisations apply for funding, their applications are assessed by an expert panel and the money is given out where it’s needed most. They’ve already raised £25,000, thanks in no small part to a £10,000 donation from the RFM Group, and it’s made a real difference to people’s lives.
So far, the pot has been used to buy bus passes to help people travel to interviews, new clothes so they can impress potential employers and starter packs to help them settle into their new accommodation. And let’s not forget the replacement birth certificates. You can’t get a bank account without a birth certificate and you can’t get a tenancy without a bank account, so they’re absolutely essential, but how could someone on the streets ever dream of raising the money to get one?
It’s not all about money though. Sometimes the most valuable thing you can offer is your own time. Whether you help serve meals at St George’s Crypt or work on outreach with Leeds Asylum Seekers Support Network, you can make a real contribution to the community. And you can always volunteer your skills, from accountants to videographers and optometrists, your talents will be put to good use. You can see all the latest volunteering opportunities on streetsupport.net, alongside requests for practical items like food, clothing and furniture.
Together, we can make a big change
The purpose of Big Change is to bring everyone together to drive real change – and that applies as much to businesses as it does to individuals. In fact, Leeds has a unique opportunity to harness the power of its commercial sector, because we have one of the biggest Business Improvement Districts in the country.
“LeedsBID has such good connectivity with its businesses that we were able to have some really quite difficult conversations with people and with employees who are generally the ones giving the cash on the streets to vulnerable people,” Butler explained. “It’s a long road, but I’m really enthused by some of the reactions we’ve had from businesses and from employees.”
Retail giant Boots has already held a fundraiser for Big Change, while Ernst & Young, Shulmans LLP and Ward Hadaway have all held donation drives to collect much-needed supplies for local charitable organisations. And the more people we can reach, the more businesses we can get involved, the more of a difference we can make – because when it comes to homelessness, no one person can do this on their own and we really are stronger together.