Homelessness in Britain has become a growing problem this decade. Statistics show a year-on-year rise for the past five years, with charity Shelter estimating that 280,000 people were homeless in England as of December 2019 with no equivalent figures for Scotland and Wales.
This not only includes those sleeping rough on the streets, but also those ‘sofa surfing’, and people forced into temporary accommodation, hostels and shelters as they are unable to afford to rent their own homes.
Trust for London, a charitable foundation tackling poverty, found 10,726 people were sleeping rough in the capital in 2019/20 compared to 3,673 in 2009/10 – treble the number a decade ago. It is among the highest figures for homelessness for a Western capital city.
Currently, around half of all the homeless in London are British citizens, with most of the rest EU nationals. Approximately 83% of those recorded on the streets in the capital are men. The information comes from CHAIN, a database about people sleeping rough in London maintained by charity outreach workers.
There are a variety of reasons that can lead to homelessness, from social causes, such as a lack of affordable housing, poverty and unemployment, to life events like losing a loved one, or the end of a relationship, and health problems, including drug misuse. Those who leave prison, the army and care are also more vulnerable, as are those trying to escape a violent or abusive home environment.
“Everyone has a unique experience, which led them to being homeless – people need our kindness not our opinion”
With the problem of homelessness more visible than ever, three Turkish Cypriots in London decided to launch their own initiative early in 2019 to help make a difference.
T-VINE talks to Ijlal Dogacan (pictured above with volunteers), one of the co-founders of Street Kind UK, to find out more about their work and the impact it’s having.
How did Street Kind UK come about and what’s its purpose?
Street Kind UK was set up by sisters Yeliz and Ijlal Dogacan and their cousin Shengul Oguzca. The mission is to spread kindness to those who are sleeping rough, to ease the difficulties that homeless people face. If we can make someone’s day a little better or give them hope for better days then we are fulfilling our purpose.
Tell us about what Street Kind UK does.
Each month we serve 150 meals during our outreach in Central London. We are in contact with our homeless friends outside of our monthly outreach too, and provide support and advice where needed.
Is everyone a volunteer?
Yes! Even the core team. Street Kind UK is completely non-profit, fuelled entirely by the kindness of our community.
How do you cover the costs of the work you do?
In the beginning we covered a lot of costs until we told our friends and family about our mission and many wanted to make contributions themselves. A range of businesses have also donated products regularly or on a one-off basis, but our main support have been our community.
We also work with other like-minded community groups like Edible London who provide us with fresh fruit and veg.
How has the pandemic affected your work?
We have had to change the way we set up. We had to reduce the number of volunteers we have at an outreach and be even more cautious of hygiene.
You recently had your December outreach session. Talk us through how you prepared for that and what happened on the day.
As soon as the November outreach was over, we began replenishing our stock for December. Socks, underwear, gloves, hats, scarves, and thermals are the priority. We have a Go Fund Me account, and the donations made gives us the freedom to shop around for the cheapest options for essential items. We often put out social media posts if we are short on something.
Our volunteers met us on Southampton Street in Covent Garden early on Sunday morning (13 December), ready to help us unpack our cars. Some of our homeless friends arrived early too and also helped us set up our tables and gazebos.
It was raining, so we had to quickly get everything under shelter. Takeaway bags were quickly assembled, with everyone helping to put a different item in each bag. We had Christmas chocolate selection boxes, fruit, tissues, a snack bar, a packet of crisps, cupcake, sanitiser wipes, a bottle of water, and disposable cutlery for each bag.
“It was more than just a phone. It was being able to reconnect to the world”
In addition, we offered all our visitors mince pies and breakfast boxes, which had orange juice, croissants and yoghurt in them.
Each client got to choose a sandwich and hot meal, which were prepared by our awesome volunteer chefs that morning.
We also had one of our regular barbers, Warren, work tirelessly without a break cutting hair whilst taking time the listen and talk to each person.
We have a hot drink station offering tea, coffee, hot chocolate, soups and pot noodles. The Pret [a Manger] branch on The Strand have brilliant staff who replenish our hot water, so we can continuously offer these during our session.
We also have a toiletries and essentials section, which includes everything you’d find in your bathroom cupboards, but often travel size as they’re lighter to carry around.
Often we have special requests, perhaps something important has been stolen or broken. Common items are sleeping bags, roll mats, and rucksacks.
With the help of the community, we were able to source a second hand smart phone, charger, power bank and new SIM card for someone who had been feeling very isolated during lockdown. With not being able to go and sit in a library, he felt cut off from the world unable to read any news about what was going on. He was so thankful – it was more than just a phone. It was being able to reconnect to the world.
We finished later, at 3pm, but this does tend to happen sometimes as we have a last minute rush of people.
What’s the most fulfilling part of what you do?
To see their faces light up when they turn that corner into the street where we are set up, and they say, “You’re here!” Or “It’s so good to see you”.
Also knowing they’re getting to eat a hot home-cooked meal, knowing all that preparation beforehand has made a difference, whether it was for 1 person or 150 people.
What has stuck with you the most in your work as Street Kind UK?
Everyone has a unique experience, which led them to being homeless – people need our kindness not our opinion.
When are you next back out?
On 27th December – we decided to do an extra outreach before the end of the year, as we know some other groups have stopped going out due to the pandemic and higher coronavirus risks.
How can people support you?
Offer your time, your cooking skills, or donate via our Go Fund Me page. If everyone who read this donated £1, think how many people we could help!
Alternatively, purchase items from our Amazon Wishlist, which will be delivered directly to us.
We know this year has been a tough year for all, so even if you followed us across all platforms, like comment or share our posts, this will also help by making us more visible to those who are in a position to donate.
You can follow the work of Street Kind UK via their social media pages: Facebook and Instagram.