With the rush of the festive period, it can be worryingly easy to pass by those in need – when actually the best gift you could give this Christmas could be your time. We’ve all been there, the awkwardness of seeing someone on the streets but not knowing how best to help the homeless, so you just keep on walking and feel pretty rubbish about it.
It only takes a quick stroll around Birmingham to notice that we’ve got quite the problem with homelessness and the number of rough sleepers out in the cold in the city centre alone has risen from 55 to 57 this year when just 3 years ago there were only 36. In fact statistics show that homeless numbers are at a record high nationwide having risen across the UK for the seventh year running.
The sad fact is: for those less fortunate, Christmas time is far from jolly. With the weather getting colder and colder it’s no wonder homelessness initiatives ramp up their activity around the holidays – making it the perfect time to get your whole team involved to help the homeless at Christmas and beyond.
So, as small businesses that haven’t got massive budgets for big cash donations, what can be done to help the homeless? We got talking to Samantha Brown, Trustee and Treasurer at Helping Birmingham’s Homeless, a charity dedicated to helping those in need in our second city, to find out some of the best ways small businesses can help organisations like theirs when those on the streets are at their most vulnerable.
Ask, don’t assume
Before we get into the ways in which your business can help – we have to get comfortable with asking for guidance on how to help. You know what they say about assuming…well it’s true in this case. A lot of the time we presume a homeless person wants food so, as a well-meaning gesture, buy them something to eat but Samantha advises to always ask them beforehand. “A lot of the time people will go and buy some food and drink to give it to the person in question but it may be that they have already been given some food and are not hungry, in which case that food gets left on the streets for the councils to remove or, if left next to someone that is sleeping, it can attract rats.”
It’s so simple, yet so many of us are too eager to help and skip out this step, or even worse, just ignore them altogether for fear of getting it wrong. Samantha says that the vast majority of those on the streets will be grateful that you’ve taken the time to ask what they need, she advises “Just speak to the person, ask them if they’re hungry or thirsty and ask what they would like to eat. If they are hungry and genuinely homeless, they will be over the moon, firstly that you actually spoke to them and secondly that they will be getting some food.”
Team up with a charity
You might think this is unnecessary and that you can just go out as a team and find homeless people to help, but it ties in with the above point about assumption. As much as we think we may know what homeless people need from us, charities who deal with vulnerable people day in day out will have a much clearer picture. In fact, just by donating the “wrong” items you could actually be doing some harm.
Samantha says, “We would always recommend linking up with groups and charities that work with homeless people and finding out what they need first. There are lots of charities and groups in and around Birmingham that have put out appeals for various items that they need so I’d recommend getting involved with what they’re doing rather than going in blind.”
“At this time of year there are so many individuals and groups popping up and giving things out in the city centre, which is great but a lot of the things that are given out are either used as currency by the homeless or dumped on the streets because they have been given so much of the same item and they can’t sell it. Getting together with a local charity means whatever you do will be more effective.”
There are many organisations out there who are always looking to partner up with businesses, and they’ll be able to ensure that your donations are going to proper use rather than being dumped or sold.
Be mindful of donations
Before you start clearing out your wardrobes and cupboards, you’ve got to be conscious of what you’re donating and whether it will actually be used by the person or sold on. Samantha elaborates, “We would never recommend giving money or anything that can be sold. When we give out items we ensure that all tags are removed and we do not give out anything that is a named brand, whether it be clothing or deodorant, as these items are typically sold off rather than being put to good use.”
The people you’re helping are often in desperate situations and it’s important to bear in mind that what you might not even consider to be a problem item, could end up worsening someone’s circumstances if they sell it for substances. Another good reason to partner up with a group or charity who can advise you on the most in demand, non-sellable items that will make the most difference.
If you’re keen to help those less fortunate this Christmas, here are a few of Birmingham’s great initiatives that are not only committed to helping the homeless, but also make quite a good bonding exercise for your team as well:
This organisation identifies and supports those in vulnerable situations in Birmingham to rehabilitate and accommodate them where needs be. They rely on their team of wonderful volunteers and supporters, if you’d like to make a donation or get involved – get in touch to find out how you can help the homeless.
Shoebox Appeals make it really simple and fun for businesses to rally up the troops to put together a shoebox full of necessities like toiletries and socks as well as some fun festive treats to brighten up someone’s Christmas. Your team can then go and deliver them to local homeless shelters so their expert team and go and hand them out. Get in touch with local charities to see which organisations near you are running a Shoebox Appeal this year.
SIFA has been a pillar of support for Birmingham’s homeless community for many years, committed to boosting health and inclusion for those out on the streets. From employment programmes to supplying food and other donations to those who need it most – SIFA are a great hands-on organisation who are always coming up with new initiatives, get in touch to see how your team can get involved.
Exactly what it says on the tin, Let’s Feed Brum is dedicated to putting a stop to the hardships experienced by the homeless, they also help those in housing who are struggling to put food on the table. Their outreach team are happy to take on volunteers to go out and serve food to those in need through their soup kitchens. If you happen to be a food outlet, you can also help by donating surplus food and beverages.
Did you know that donating your SME’s time to those less fortunate could actually be good for your business as well as your conscience? Take a look at our article on why your business should have a CSR strategy.