HOMELESS AT CHRISTMAS: Sheffield campaign urges residents to think twice before giving money to those on streets
A Sheffield campaign designed to make people think about how they give money to homeless people is one of the best of its kind in the country.
So say the Sheffield City Centre Residents' Action Group (SCCRAG), who were instrumental in getting the ball rolling on the Help Us Help campaign four years ago.
The scheme has been running for a number of years already but this year had a big pre-Christmas push which included a week-long pop-up stall at Sheffield Christmas markets.
SCCRAG Chair, Peter Sephton, who was manning the stall last Wednesday, said the idea came about after city centre residents were among the first to notice the rise in begging and rough sleeping.
He said: 'When people are asked for money by beggars they feel guilty and they don't know how to help.
'Our attitude is that the decision is yours but we recommend giving money to the expert agencies because if you give it to individuals that tends to keep them on the streets.
'We think it is one of the best things of its kind running in the country.'
Peter said rough calculations he has done suggest that for every pound you give to a person with an addiction, it shortens their life by another hour.
However, if you give money to agencies who work with homeless people, they have a better chance of persuading them there is a better way.
They advise people who want to help those in need this Christmas to consider five alternative options to handing over money in the street.
These include just talking to someone and letting them know they are not alone, reporting your concerns to a street outreach team, giving your time by volunteering, giving money in other ways such as buying the Big Issue or helping by donating goods or providing someone Â place to stay.
And as well as offering advice, they are also encouraging people and businesses to make pledges to promote the Help Us Help approach with their friends and customers.
All the money and donations raised through the Help Us Help scheme go to seven city centre charities which work with homeless people - Ben's Centre, The Sunday Centre, Soup Kitchen, Homeless and Rootless at Christmas, The Archer Project and the Street Outreach Team.
Also at the stall last Wednesday was Tracy Ford from the Sheffield Drug and Alcohol Coordination Team (DACT).
She said: 'There is a perception out there that there is no provision for these individuals and people want to know how we are getting people sleeping rough in the 21st century.
'But what we have been missing for a long time because of austerity and everyone being stretched to the limit is that these charities don't have time to promote themselves.
'Help Us Help gives them a platform and allows people to see what is going on in this city.
'We are encouraging people to find out a little bit more and then make an informed choice about whether they think giving money is the right thing to do or whether they could make a better choice by helping us help.'
As well as the pop-up cabin, the campaign had a printed newspaper and flyers, a website, a Facebook page and a promotional video.
In the video, footage of people begging and sleeping rough is brought together with Sheffielders talking about how they feel when they see people living on the streets.
It then goes on to interview people who work with the city's vulnerable population and showing the help that is out there for them.
Finally they speak to former beggar Mike who tells them he has spent his whole life in drugs and could make up to Â£300 a day on the streets of the city.
'My advice to the public in Sheffield is do not give them money,' he says.
'Nine times out of 10 it is drug money so they are just fuelling their habit.'
Taking shelter from the rain at the cabin for a few minutes last week was Leo, aged 61, from Sheffield, who said that he had been forced to live on the streets of the city on numerous occasions.
However, after getting involved with volunteering at the Archer Project, he had been able to keep hold of a flat for the last 10 years.
'I am grateful for everything that has happened to me,' he said.
'I just want thank the people of Sheffield and South Yorkshire for all the support and facilities that they help provide.
'Places like the Archer Project, Ben's Centre and Emmaus make a massive difference.'
For more information on Help Us Help, visit www.helpushelp.uk.