THE plight of rough sleepers is once again in the spotlight following the discovery of a dead homeless man in Malvern on Christmas Day. Jonathan Sutton, chief executive of St Paul’s Hostel in Worcester, which helps homeless people across the county, shares his own experience on how best to help rough sleepers.

Rough sleeping, excessive street drinking and begging are not the same. People who beg are not necessarily rough sleeping (or indeed without a place to stay) and someone who sleeps rough may not need or want to beg. Each needs help.

Many people who find themselves on the street have unmet care and support needs. Those of us who work directly with them know this through the work we do every day. Some have a background of childhood abuse or neglect. Quite a few have had alcoholic or violent parents. Poor physical health can be obvious, but there are hidden mental health illnesses, which often lead to and are made worse by, drug and drink addictions.

What should I do if I see someone sleeping rough?

Tell supportive services using Street Link. By using the Street Link app, you can note down the place or street a person is and they can send someone to see him or her. Visit or call 0300 500 09145.

Tell people on the streets that that there are charities, churches and services where they can get help. Maggs Day Centre, St Paul’s Hostel and Caring for Communities (CCP) have trained staff who know what to do.

What if they say they are banned from hostel/support centre – is this true?

St Paul’s Hostel and Magg’s Day Centre have over 70 years of experience between them. They know how important it is for people to be able to access their services and suspending someone from accessing services is the last resort. It is also important for the public to understand why someone might be suspended from services for a short period. The two principle reasons are; the dealing of illegal drugs and/or threatening violence or being violent to others in the service.

Homelessness is more than ‘rooflessness, it’s about the lack of stable, secure and affordable accommodation. Providing tents might seem like an easy solution but it rarely leads to someone accessing the help they really need. There is very strong evidence that rough sleeping is very damaging to physical and mental health – it is a form of self-neglect. Local homeless charities do not give tents.

What should I give to homeless people?

It is your choice (about whether you give money to people who ask for help on the street) but the hard-won experience of those who work with people – and those who were on the street – is that money nearly always goes on hard drugs or alcohol not on the things people say they need help with such as food, clothing or accommodation.

Instead, give someone a cup of tea or coffee and something to eat. It’s even better if you can also take the opportunity to ask the person what happened to them and then suggest where they can get help.

What else can I do?

Buy a copy of the Big Issue – a long-established and well-run national scheme. Vendors are registered and approved and they purchase the magazines from the local distributor at cost price and then sell them to the public. The Big Issue is also a good way of understanding more about homelessness. Big Issue vendors like to talk to people and if you have time stop for a chat and get to know the person. Please note that Big Issue sellers are not allowed to ask for additional money. A key point is to reintroduce people to working, and help them away from begging.