Working together to address homelessness

Did you visit the Christmas Market in Sheffield city centre last month? If so, did you see the Help us Help stand and were you able to manage to chat to the volunteers on the stand? Maybe you took away a shopping list and a carrier bag to fill, or perhaps talking to the volunteers inspired you to look into volunteering yourself with a charity in the city.

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The Christmas market was the first time that I became aware of Help us Help – an umbrella organisation made up of various charities and organisations and the City Council, all of whom are trying to raise awareness of the work being done to tackle issues of homelessness and street begging in the city, and provide suggestions to the general public about how best to support those who are begging on the streets.

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SheffGives met with Tracey Ford, from the Sheffield Drug and Alcohol Team in the City Council, a key member of the Help us Help team, to find out more about the organisation.

Tell us a little about the background to Help us Help – when and why was the organisation formed?

Help us Help is run by the City Council, charities and other organisations in Sheffield, and draws on our shared experiences of working with homeless and vulnerable people in the city. All of the agencies and charities involved may come into contact with the same people, so by working collaboratively to tackle the issues and share updates of contacts with service users, we can make sure that together we are all operating in unison.

We’ve been working in this way for 3 years now, and although agencies, charities and organisations have always worked collaboratively in the city, the formation of Help us Help has formalised that. One of the key drivers was the input of Sheffield City Centre Residents Action Group, SCCRAG, who had seen the problems of street begging and antisocial behaviour getting worse over the past few years, particularly in the city centre.

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Peter Sephton, Chair of SCCRAG said, “SCCRAG will continue to be involved in supporting activities that provide the street community with opportunities to re-integrate into society. In particular we encourage Sheffielders to support the agencies that help this happen, like Cathedral Archer Project, Ben’s Centre, Framework Housing, Big Issue, Soup Wagon and The Sunday Centre”.

What are some of the common misconceptions around homelessness, rough sleeping and begging?

Homelessness is a very complex issue and there is no one solution that fits all. Not everybody who begs is homeless, far from it, but everybody who begs has needs of some kind, and there are many agencies and services in the city available to support them in addressing their needs, should people wish to access them.

Rough sleeping is the most obvious sign of homelessness in the city, but not everybody who sleeps rough has no accommodation to go back to. Everybody’s circumstances are different, so it is very easy to generalise and this is where misconceptions can arise.

When you see people begging on the streets, or sleeping rough, it can be easy to come to the conclusion that the Council isn’t providing any support, or that charities and support services don’t exist in the city. This simply isn’t true. We do care, very much, and we are working extremely hard to make sure that everybody is offered the support they need.

Part of the work of Help us Help is around educating the general public on these issues and providing practical suggestions for how they can help, if they want to. And one thing we learned from our stall on the Christmas market is that Sheffield people are genuinely concerned about homelessness and street begging, but are unsure what is best for them to do. That’s where our website comes in – a great resource for finding out more.

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When you see people begging on the streets, or sleeping rough, it can be easy to come to the conclusion that the Council isn’t providing any support, or that charities and support services don’t exist in the city. This simply isn’t true.

What’s coming up in 2018 for Help us Help?

One of the great successes of the stall on the market (an idea which was actually proposed by city centre retailers), was that we saw first hand how engaged the public were in the discussion, and how they wanted to be a part of finding the solution. So, in 2018, Help us Help is going on the road to keep this discussion going, to engage and educate more Sheffield people, and to continue to raise awareness of what services and support agencies operate in the city.

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We just had our first stall at Waitrose at the bottom of Ecclesall Road, and lots of people stopped to talk to us and to find out more about the work that we do in the city, both together as Help us Help, and as individual agencies and charities. We’ll be holding regular stalls at Waitrose, and other locations over the course of this year. We’ll also be engaging the student communities at both Sheffield Hallam and the University of Sheffield, as students, particularly international students, are often unsure what’s best to do to help somebody they see begging on the streets.

How can SheffGives followers get involved and lend support to Help us Help?

One thing that we are very clear on is that we are not telling people in the city what they should and shouldn’t do.  We are definitely not saying you must never give money to somebody begging on the street. What we are all about is suggesting ways which people can help differently.

If you want to give money, why not donate directly to a Sheffield charity? Perhaps you are unable to give money, but could donate some old coats, hats and gloves, for example, to be used by a vulnerable person accessing support through the Archer Project? Or perhaps your time is the most valuable thing that you can give – most of the charities in Sheffield rely on the support of volunteers, so if you look on our website you’ll find more information about how to get started.

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Another easy way to support vulnerable people in Sheffield is to buy the Big Issue – vendors are working, not begging, and need public support. Plus, the Big Issue is a fantastic read!

What we are all about is suggesting ways which people can help differently.

Can you share a success story with us of where somebody has moved on with their life after support from Help us Help?

We love to share success stories, as so much of our work is focused around things not going well for people. Our Facebook page and website are regularly updated with positive stories which we hope people will share to spread them further.

One recent story was from our experiences of working with Kieran*. He suffers from paranoia which has previously prevented him from moving into his own tenancy as he believed that the properties offered were infested with insects, or that somebody was spying on him. A multi agency team has worked with Kieran to support him to take his medication each day, to try and get his mental health to a more stable place, something which is difficult to manage if you are sleeping rough.

Our consistent approach has helped Kieran to combat his paranoia and also helped to improve his physical condition, meaning that he has felt able to accept a place in a hostel, getting him off the streets, and he continues to receive the support of the team there to improve his physical and mental health. A really inspiring story.

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It’s great to hear that partnership working under Help us Help really is making a positive impact on people’s lives in the city. By continuing to educate and motivate people around these issues, let’s hope Help us Help and the general public can work together to try to understand and address the social problems that exist in Sheffield.

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SheffGives 2018

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