How You Can Practically Help Britain's 320,000 Hidden Homeless
Around 320,000 people were recorded as homeless in the UK this year, according to the housing charity Shelter. The statistics mark a shocking rise of 13,000 people in the last year and suggests one in 200 people are homeless nationally.
Although London has the highest rate of homelessness, numbers are growing in north-west England, Yorkshire and the Humber and the Midlands.
So what can you do to actually help those affected by the growing problem?
"These figures are stark reminder that more needs to be done to tackle our escalating homelessness crisis," says Jon Sparkes, chief executive of the homelessness charity Crisis.
"Having to sleep rough exposes people to everything from sub-zero temperatures, violence and abuse, and fatal illnesses."
Earlier this year, research by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism found at least 78 homeless people died last winter, which is an average of at least two a week.
If you choose not to donate money, you can always donate old, unwanted clothes. A number of organisations throughout the UK, such as NUFC Fans Food Bank in Newcastle and the Pioneers Museum in Rochdale, frequently ask for donations of warm clothing to distribute to homeless people. A clean jumper, coat or sleeping bag could make a huge difference to someone on the street.
Contact a professional
"If you see someone sleeping rough, there are several things you can do but the first point of call is Streetlink, which is a safe and confidential way to alert specialist outreach teams to rough sleepers," Sparkes says.
"If you are seriously concerned about their immediate health you should contact the emergency services."
There's also a few resources which list local shelters in your area, such as this one for London, which can be consulted to advise homeless people where they might find shelter.
Give them your time
Loneliness and isolation is a huge problem for homeless people, who can feel invisible as others walk past on their way home. "We know from speaking to our clients' that sleeping rough can be incredibly isolating. So, you can also stop for a chat or offer to buy someone a cup of tea or some food," Sparkes told us. If you see someone sleeping rough, talking to them and offering them a hot drink or a sandwich can help - and you can find out more about what further support you can offer.
Don't forget pets
A dog can be some rough sleepers' only companion and provide comfort when times are hard. Some have had their pets since before losing their homes. Buying some food might be appreciated and provide wellbeing for the owner, who may be struggling to feed their dog.
You can also donate to Street Vet, which provides free veterinary treatment to dogs - and a few cats - belonging to homeless people in London, Brighton, Bristol, Cambridge, Plymouth, Birmingham, Cheltenham and Southampton.
Remember the hidden homeless
Many people who are homeless don't show up in official figures too. Earlier this year, Stacey Dooley's documentary Young and Homeless featured young people referred to as the "hidden homeless" - those who are without a fixed address, who aren't living with parents, or who are sleeping on the sofas of friends and family.
The problem means thousands of people, including teenagers, could go under the radar and miss out on vital help and support. Women are also at risk of slipping between the cracks, particularly those who have fled abuse or violence at home.
Many stay in hostels, squats or B&Bs, in overcrowded accommodation or 'concealed' housing, such a friend's floor. Shelter offers support and advice for people in these situations via a helpline, which is open 365 days a year. Donating to the charity helps keep this lifeline going.
"Finally, you can help Crisis be there for thousands of homeless people this winter by donating to our Christmas centres, which provide shelter, warm meals, and vital services to thousands of to those who have nowhere else to turn over the holidays - and which supports people to take their first steps out of homelessness for good," Sparkes says.
Featured Image Credit: PA Images