Homelessness in Cambridge
“The number of rough sleepers in Cambridge increased by 145 per cent since .” Monty Finn
Being homeless is a devastating and complex problem to deal with. It often comes with a few other problems and bring some more issues to one’s life. However, help is available. The Cambridge city council has in place a housing assistance, individuals can complete an assessment if they are at risk of becoming homeless in the next 56 days. The Cambridge city council also has two lines to call in case of emergency: 01223 457918 (office hours) and 0844 335 3944 (out of office hours, costs 7p per minute). Additionally, the Cambridge Citizens’ Advice Bureau (located at 66 Devonshire Road, Cambridge CB1 2BL) offer a drop-in service (no appointment necessary) on Monday to Friday 9.15am to 12.45pm. (More information on getting help can be find here)
Unfortunately, it’s never easy to get out of homelessness. For some, homelessness is strongly linked to other problems, such as addiction and/or mental health problems. In addition to the Cambridge City Council, there are a number of charitable organisations in Cambridge providing vital services, including emergency accommodation, to homeless and vulnerably housed in Cambridge (find out more about them and how to support them here).
But homelessness isn’t just about not having a place to sleep. Many homeless people experience social exclusion and severe loneliness, and issues such as mental illness and addiction can both cause and be exacerbated by homelessness. As a result, one of the easiest yet most important things we can all do is to show compassion to homeless people: smile and say hello, stop and have a chat/offer food or a hot drink if you can.
“I was recently asked by someone what they should do when they come across a homeless person. My response to this question is quite simple. Maybe you cannot make a difference to that person’s circumstance, but you can make a difference to how you see them. Many are hurting with the shame and stigma of being homeless. Don’t pretend they don’t exist: they are people too.”
Should I give money to homeless people?
Many people do give money to the homeless and it is at your discretion to do so. For someone facing the prospect of sleeping on the streets, helping with some money towards a hostel for the night can make a huge difference. Some people are wary of giving money: not knowing if to give or how much to give. Some choose to donate to a charity such as Jimmy’s or Wintercomfort instead. Some people just don’t have much money to give in the first place. These are all perfectly fine! There are plenty of other ways you can give:
Food: joining an organisation like Streetbite which regularly gives out food to the homeless can help you reach out to homeless people all over Cambridge. Or you could offer to buy, say, a coffee or tea or sandwich for the person. Make sure you ask what the person wants before you buy them something!
Time: giving time could mean volunteering regularly with an organisation like Jimmy’s or Wintercomfort or it could mean taking time to have a chat and get to know a homeless person or rough sleeper.
Many of the Big Issue vendors in Cambridge are themselves homeless or vulnerably housed. You can further make a difference by pledging to buy a copy of the Big Issue magazine once a week for £3 to support your local vendors and the Big Issue.
Others: the list is endless. You could give a blanket or a book or a scarf or anything else. Just make sure that what you’re giving is needed. Homeless people aren’t all the same. Their needs differ. Be conscious of that.
It is also useful to know about the services available to homeless people so that you can direct rough sleepers when appropriate. Jimmy’s, Wintercomfort and the Cambridge Street and Mental Health Outreach Team operate throughout the year, but CCHP (Cambridge Churches Homeless Project) provides additional shelter at various churches from the beginning of December to the beginning of April, and during periods of severe weather Jimmy’s can accommodate extra sleepers as part of the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol.
One of the most important things we can do is to challenge our own internal prejudices and remember that every homeless person is an individual, a human being with their own set of circumstances that have led to their current situation. Every now and then, take the time out of your day to talk to someone – ask how they are and if there is any way you can help.
“I already felt pretty detached from society because of the drinking – but as I watched people walking past, ignoring me, I felt worse… Sometimes just giving some spare change, or even stopping for a five minute chat – it makes all the difference.”