With Europe gripped by freezing temperatures, we spoke to homeless expert Freek Spinnewijn to find out what you can do to help.
Start volunteering: One of the best things you can do is start volunteering with a charity that helps homeless people, according to Freek Spinnewijn, director of FEANTSA, the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless.
“Locally it’s not so difficult to find a list of organisations that work with the homeless,” he told Euronews.
Many groups distribute food and warm supplies but there are other volunteering projects with an eye on the long-term.
Earlier this month for example 2,000 volunteers hit the streets of Paris to count the number of homeless on the French capital’s streets.
The aim was to let authorities know the extent of Paris’ homelessness, allowing them to plan and develop policies to solve the problem.
Start donating: Equally helpful is to get your credit card out and make a financial donation to a charity or organisation that works with the homeless.
“A donation can always help,” Spinnewijn said. “There are providers of shelter who in part depend on donations from the general public and there are lots of organisations who actually have donation campaigns during the winter period because people are more likely to give.”
If you don’t have any spare cash, it’s worth checking out a helpful app that aims to reduce the amount of food waste.
Too Good To Go provides a platform that allows restaurants to sell off—at low prices—food they would otherwise throw away.
Users of the app also have the option of buying the food from an eatery and then making a donation to a homeless person.
Vote for the right politicians: Critics of society’s response to homelessness say people only seem to care at Christmas or when it gets really cold.
Spinnewijn said one of the best things people can do is to make the issue political by voting for candidates who say they will do something about it.
He added: “I think in the long term the public that is concerned about the homeless should remember that it’s an issue of concern when there are elections next time and make sure it becomes a political issue and that policymakers are prepared for the next cold wave because there are always cold waves.”
Talk and listen: Jesús Sandín, who is responsible for Solidarios’ homeless programme in Madrid, told Euronews it was important to engage with people sleeping on the streets, especially in cold weather.
He added: “It is necessary to free ourselves from prejudices and stereotypes about homeless people and approach them normally. Break the barrier and give them a chance to be considered. If we find a person in a bad situation or need help, the most important thing is to talk to them and hear how they are doing and what they really need, before offering what we consider. If we perceive a situation of obvious risk, we must inform the corresponding social services.”
Dust down that spare bed: Spinnewijn said if the situation is desperate and there is no direct a homeless person towards professional help, why not open your own door?
“Of course it’s not a sustainable solution but in cases of acute emergency it can obviously help,” he said.
“You can pay for someone’s hotel room too, but this is obviously a solution for the very short term.
“Some homeless people can have very complex problems, it’s not an easy target group to work with.
“It might be a combination of addiction and mental health problems. Professional care is normally what you need but I can imagine in cases of emergency that [taking people in] can be the only solution.”
Distributing items to keep people warm:Authorities in Italy and elsewhere in Europe urge people to provide and distribute warm clothing for the homeless.
Spinnewijn said such action reminded him of the story about a Danish design competition some years ago. One of the winners was the creator of a jacket for homeless people that had a brick design on it so that they could better blend into the urban landscape.
But, he said, while homeless people would be grateful for warm items, making life on the streets more comfortable or reducing the visibility of homeless people didn’t solve the long-term issue.
“As a structural solution it doesn’t help, on the contrary,” he said. “The fact that in cities like Brussels—which is a rich city—there is the need for blankets for homeless people I find strange, we should be outraged by that and not feel happy and satisfied that we gave a blanket to a homeless person.”
Your view | What do you think? Are we doing enough to tackle homelessness? Do you have a story to tell about people on the streets during Europe's big freeze? Email me: email@example.com or leave a comment below.