Joint Statement from Rob Saggs, Executive Director of CHESS Homeless and Councillor Susan Sullivan, Cabinet Member for Safer Communities at Chelmsford City Council.
Today, CHESS Homeless - supported by Chelmsford City Council - are launching a new campaign to deal with street begging in Chelmsford. "Spare Change or Real Change" is all about changing the way we approach people who we see begging in order to provide a long-term solution to their situation.
It's hard for any of us to walk past someone in distress without wanting to help them. So, when someone asks us for a little spare change for a bus fare or a cup of tea, we often give it to them. It's not much loss to us, and it could really help them.
We wonder why nothing has been done. If they just need some money and a roof over their heads, why haven't the authorities provided it?
At the moment, rough sleeping is a rising problem - both nationally and in Chelmsford - and when you see more people appearing on the streets, you naturally think that the Council isn't helping.
But this is far from the truth. In an area the size of our city centre, it would be very unusual to meet a rough sleeper who we are not aware of or have not had contact with. Working and sharing information with police, local charities and other agencies, we have an understanding of each individual's background and needs - and we are working hard together to try to get them off the streets and into housing and accessing the support they need.
Every year, about 300 cases of homelessness are prevented by the Council's housing advice service. Once people begin sleeping rough, however, they can get stuck in a cycle of living on the streets. Substance addictions and other problems can develop, and it becomes very difficult for them to break out of this. When offered accommodation, they may not accept it, or if they do, they may continue to spend time on the streets because of continuing dependency on a begging income, a social network or other issues.
They need much more than spare change - they need consistent, patient help over a period of time. CHESS Homeless provides this in the form of a change programme. CHESS offer shelter, clothing and hygiene facilities to rough sleepers: but for those who are willing to engage, they also offer counselling, one-to-one mentoring and support to access treatment and long-term accommodation. Last year, CHESS helped 37 people through the change programme.
CHESS are one of Chelmsford City Council's main partners in helping homeless people. One example of this work is that the Council commissions them, as experts, to run outreach services in Chelmsford. CHESS outreach workers respond to all the calls made via Streetlink and seek to offer each rough sleeper the help they need to get off the street.
Giving someone on the street spare change does not tackle the underlying issues that are causing their homelessness. Actually, it may make them worse. If that person does have an addiction, they may be compelled to spend that money on alcohol or drugs rather than essentials. This could interrupt their recovery from addiction or even kill them.
Spare change enables and even encourages life on the streets, when we and our partner organisations are working to strongly encourage people to come off them - or, if they are not street homeless, to cease begging and access proper support. These long-term solutions can only work if they are willing and able to engage with us.
If you really want to help a rough sleeper leave the streets for good, please help us to offer them real change, not spare change. If you see someone who you think may be homeless, there are ways you can directly help them without giving them money:
- Donate to local homelessness charities. CHESS accepts financial and in-kind donations online at www.chesshomeless.org or in person at 200 New London Road, CM2 9AB. There are also other homelessness charities locally and nationally.
- Tell us if you're worried about someone through Streetlink at www.streetlink.org
- Volunteer and give your time. Posts are advertised at www.chesshomeless.org
- Talk to the person and tell them about CHESS so we can give them the support they need.
For more information, please download the Spare Change Or Real Change leaflet or pick one up at Chelmsford Civic Centre.
Monday 31 July 2017