Don’t pass by homeless/needy people on the street

Often we get into a habit of walking past homeless/needy people sitting on the side of the street. We are told that it is wrong to give them money, so we just pass awkwardly by.

It takes a lot of courage, but with temperatures dropping, I would suggest just stopping and chatting to the next person you see in such a situation. They may ask for money – and I would suggest declining that request. But what you can do is offer to go and buy them a drink of coffee/tea/soup or a sandwich or some chocolate.

For years I used to give money to homeless/needy people on the street, but last year I was advised by a charity worker not to do so. So for the last few months I have been offering to buy a coffee/sandwich.

I have found recipients to be extremely grateful that someone has stopped and treated them like a human-being for a few moments of their day.

Another thing you can consider is donating to a homeless charity and/or reporting a street-sleeper to Streetlink website, which will alert the relevant local authority to that person’s predicament.

Also, many charities are looking for volunteers to help run their services for the homeless/needy this Christmas. Why not consider giving them a few hours of your time? You’ll have great fun, I assure you.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist and member of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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  • Although I never had to resort to begging I have been homeless. I always give money. Personally I would find it patronising to do otherwise. Sometimes I also offer other kinds of help (for instance I used to cook for a homeless guy that I got to know quite well). To my mind a beggar is just a person in a poorly paid job. It’s not up to me to decide how they spend their earnings.

  • Tony Greaves 3rd Dec '16 - 7:29pm

    I enjoyed singing along to a small jazz combo on the District Line this week (Hit the Road, Jack; O When the Saints…; and two or three more). They cheered me up and got a small reward in return. Then there was the man outside Earls Court underground station who had slumped forward asleep near midnight. I tapped him on the shoulder so I could give him my lose change and when he looked up I realised it was a woman. are we really the fifth largest economy on the planet and one of the richest ever to exist, and we let this happen? What on earth is going on?

  • Conor McGovern 3rd Dec '16 - 8:03pm

    Really worthwhile article. Homelessness is not inevitable and should not occur in a rich country in the 21st century. It’s an indictment of a failing economic model.

  • Sue Sutherland 3rd Dec '16 - 8:45pm

    My husband (now retired) used to run the homeless hostel in Bath and many homeless people have told me how terrible it is to be treated as if they don’t exist. Worse treatment is meted out to them, of course, but most of us just walk on by. I’ve wrestled with the not giving money question but that is what I do, because I don’t think depriving people of money is going to cure a drugs or drink addiction and going cold turkey is almost impossible. However, my husband doesn’t agree with me, Some hostels also require their clients to pay a small amount before giving them a bed and food so if you know your local hostel make sure the homeless person knows where it is. It also makes me feel safer offering money to show my good intentions and buying food or coffee isn’t always possible.

  • I used to volunteer at a homeless project as a receptionist on `dry days`. The paid staff always said `don’t give money`. So I’m confused!

    However, may I make a plea for those who are on JSA. If they are a bit down and are really trying to find work just offer them a meal and company. If they’re going to an interview do so for the night before or the same morning of the interview.

  • Tony Greaves 3rd Dec '16 - 10:04pm

    If you have got the time talk to people and find out their stories. You will often be very surprised and sometimes shocked. Like the man thrown out of his flat unlawfully and waiting three days on the streets for a court hearing about it.

  • John Barrett 3rd Dec '16 - 10:22pm

    I chatted to a homeless young man outside Tesco (not far from our Scottish Party HQ) the other day and listened to his story, which essentially was that he after his marriage of 14 years ended, he decided to do the right thing and let his ex-wife and kids keep the house they all lived in. He was therefore declared intentionally homeless and had his housing benefit stopped. His appeal was being heard later that day. I gave him the cash for a decent lunch and a hot drink.

    I am not convinced by the “experts” who say not to give cash, as it is a shortage of money that causes 90% of the problems of those in need.

    We are all guilty of wasting money at some time, possibly more so around this time of year on alcohol or useless presents, which just add to all the “stuff” we already have but don’t need.

    So why not allow the homeless or beggars to have a few pounds in their pockets and to behave just like the rest of us?

  • Indeed. It’d be liberal to give the beggar some cash, suggest they buy lunch and then leave them to make their own decisions, surely?

  • ethicsgradient 4th Dec '16 - 7:59am

    What a good article!

    We are all of equal worth and deserve equal respect and dignity. Not many people want to actively sit on a cold and wet pavement for hours on end. Give the person some food, a coffee, a bit of cash (does it really matter if they use it for a couple hours of relief from their situation, we all have a Christmas drink) , had a chat see how they are. It only takes 5 minutes, we are all human.

    People don’t want to be on the street, most have horrible situations that have led them to their current situation. Everyone needs a bit of help. Good luck to ’em.

  • ethicsgradient 4th Dec '16 - 8:01am

    with cash,

    I often find streeters are trying to get enough together to paid the £10-£20 for a hostel for the night. some might be spinning a tale, most I think are being straight up about it in the city I live in

  • A difficult one, i must admit msometimes i do walk past …. but sometimes i do stop. As the above have said, a conversation and being treated like a human being is always appreciated. The money or food/drink … again i used to give money, now always offer food/ non alcoholic drink. I suppose down to our individual view

  • I’ll be honest and say that it’s not often that an LDV article and subsequent comments change my mind about anything, but this has got me thinking. I realised that following the advice not to give money and donate to a homeless charity instead is the easy way out. It’s easy to walk on by and then salve my conscience by donating.

    But refusing to give money in case they spend it on alcohol, drugs or whatever is a form of “othering” that treats all homeless people as the same.

    I am grateful to Tony, Sue and ethicsgradient for challenging me to actually think on a Sunday morning. The liberal response is to do the difficult thing and actually stop and talk to the homeless and understand that they all have different stories. Maybe the change in my pocket makes a difference to someone having a bed for the night.

    I have a new pre-Christmas resolution.

  • Andy Boddington 4th Dec '16 - 9:36am

    We have had several homeless men passing through Ludlow this year. We have also had two locals rough sleeping. Even as a unitary councillor, I have found that Street Link is the best way to get help, even from my own council. I use the app on my phone so I can talk it through with the homeless person I’m sitting alongside.

  • There are some people who will not so easily engage with charitable service and often these isolated people are the ones that need help the most. It may be that offering to buy food or (especially at this time of the year) coats and gloves may be the best way to help these people as well as a kind word and encouraging them to feel ok about engaging. Donating time or money to a charity that supports homeless people (and those at risk of becoming homeless – family advice, money advice etc.) will then make a wider impact.

    It is shocking how many end up on the streets and how easily it is to do. It makes a mockery of the “debates” about wearing a poppy when ex-servicemen and women are one of the most at risk groups in the UK and offered far less support in England. The housing and homeless crisis needs a liberal focus.

  • One often wonders how it’s possible to be homeless with all the safety nets that are supposed to be there. Who is genuinely in trouble vs. Who is just supplementing their income and conning passers-by? And who is just going to pour the cash away at the end of the night?

    Seeing the comments above, I’m ashamed by how illiberal and mean spirited I’ve been. (Perhaps the same applies to charity workers, who want so desperately to help – but often only see people at their worst.)

    But… it isn’t OK for me to view every homeless person with suspicion nor OK for me to treat them all as addicts with no agency of their own.

    I will try to be more generous when I can be, take time to help when I can do more – but yes – give money if I can spare it, in the hope that the person uses it in a way that’s right for them.

    Thanks all.

  • David Evershed 4th Dec '16 - 11:08am

    Those begging in the street often have dogs with them. It seems to help their fund raising.

    What does it say about human nature that

    a) beggars choose to exploit dogs and

    b) people often value the plight of dogs more than the plight of people?

  • ethicsgradient 4th Dec '16 - 12:31pm


    Hi, I’m a pragmatic and realist about this. I see and spot the scammers on the street, they’re there for sure. But most of those on the street aren’t there out of choice.

    Have a bit of a chat to them and you’ll see most( I can’t put a figure on it but it is more than 1 in 2) are there because of physical or sexual violence at home. Some just aren’t loved and booted out of house when the caring adult takes in a new lover and the person is an inconvenience.

    So how is it possible to end up homeless? You fancy taking another beating or just getting out of there?

    The other main people I come across when walking home through the city streets at night are people who are mentally ill and don’t have the capacity/stability to access the help available and end up on the streets.

    It’s not all sob stories but most people don’t want to sit on a cold wet pavement at the beginning of December.

  • Sue Sutherland 4th Dec '16 - 12:42pm

    David, if you were sleeping on the street, feeling very alone and vulnerable, wouldn’t you want the warmth, protection, companionship and love of a dog by your side? I’m not saying all homeless people are angels because they aren’t, but if I give money to someone begging on the street with a dog and they are really not homeless and have borrowed the dog, do you know what? I don’t care. I would rather that happens sometimes than not give money at all to people who are desperate for a friendly face. Who knows that might be the first step on someone’s long and difficult rehabilitation.

  • In recent weeks, though it’s not just a recent thing, I have seen police quietly speaking to a homeless person. I don’t know what they are aiming to achieve (some councils seemingly don’t want homeless people spoiling their streets for tourists first and foremost) so would anyone be able to tell me whether they advise those homeless on where they can get support?

    Would it be a good idea for these police to carry around a free-phone and information packs so the homeless person can make a call to the out-of-hours council homeless service and make them aware of local schemes (if they aren’t already) that offer warm food and potential shelter? Or indeed introduce a phone for this purpose somewhere in the city center?

  • As others have said, good and timely article.
    I used to manage a small hostel in Worcester, and sadly the issue of homelessness is still very relevant today despite the best efforts of all services and volunteers working on the issue.
    The question as to whether to give money or not is a knotty one, charities and local authorities tend to suggest that the money is better donated to local services working to alleviate homelessness. However I would agree with some of the comments above that if you are prepared to accept that once handed over to the individual, the money you give may not be spent in the way you would wish, then by all means give to the individual.
    To me it is not so much what someone who is genuinely homeless spends their money on, it is the thought that it may be going to a professional beggar, who in my experience have their own home and often prey on those who are genuine rough sleepers.
    If you can afford it why not give to an individual and to a charity, or as Paul says spend a few hours volunteering he’s right you will have fun.

  • DJ; I can’t speak for everywhere, but in most places I have lived, the police have a very well developed support plan for street sleepers. In my town they do much of what you suggest, refer to hostels, give information about where they can get free food and clothing, and if necessary take them to an emergency shelter or ensure they get to hospital.

  • If you want to find out a bit more about homelessness and/or rough sleeping Emmaus are doing an online advent calendar with a formerly homeless person telling their story at and on twitter at @EmmausUK

    It’s a good project and I am more than happy to admit I am biased as I work for Emmaus UK.

  • John Barrett 4th Dec '16 - 9:56pm

    In answer to the question about homeless people and dogs…….

    Some years ago I was working on a project in the USA with homeless people and I asked the same question, “why do you have a dog with you?”

    The answer, from a young ex-serviceman, was that every person he had known in life had given up on him and the only friend he had left was his dog. He added that if the homeless shelter would not accept his dog staying with him, he would rather sleep rough, than give him up.

    In another interview, a woman who had experienced homelessness explained how she used to look into houses and watch families celebrating Christmas, while she lived in a pup tent in freezing temperatures. She added that many people are only two pay cheques away from being homeless.

    In another interview (I could go on and on, but won’t) when I sked a Councillor what the council was doing about homelessness, she answered that people often raised the issue. Then after a minute’s thought, she said, “no that’s not true, nobody has ever asked me to do anything about the homeless.”

    Sadly in all my time as a Councillor, or as an MP, unless homelessness it affected the individual who contacted me, nobody ever contacted me in Edinburgh and asked that same question. “What can you do about the homeless?”

    That was 25 years ago but I have never forgotten her words.

    Maybe we should all contact our elected representatives this Christmas and ask the same question.

  • Thank you for the response Tynan. I suspected that the police service aim to do their bit and hopefully they are able to help as many as possible. In an earlier post I commented that the most vulnerable would be those least likely to engage with charitable/council support and I imagine this goes doubly so for the police.

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