My personal experience with the homeless and vulnerable people on the streets of the UK

Posted by:
Kannan Jayaraman

Publish Date:
20 Jan, 2022

For the last four years or so, I, together with some of my friends and colleagues from various walks of life (NHS, charities, and local homeless organisations), have reached out directly to the homeless people on the streets of the UK. I want to share some of my observations and learnings from my experiences.

Exposed to the brutal elements, all year ‘round, the homeless navigate wet and dark, freezing nights in Birmingham, Glasgow, Leeds, Reading - I suppose almost every neighbourhood. I always wondered how and why people end up on the streets in a country like the UK, where state protection and safeguarding is relatively high. At the same time, I wondered whether I would be able to withstand the harsh environment that the homeless face daily, even for one night. I have challenged myself by running marathons, climbing the UK’s 3 Peaks etc. – and I was able to do it. However, I was certain that I wouldn’t be resilient enough to tackle homelessness; not knowing where my next meal was coming from, no place of comfort, no place to rest my back. All heart-breaking circumstances. I felt something inside, compelling me to reach out and help in any way I could. So, whenever I travelled, I would give those I saw sleeping on the streets bananas and cakes.

During Christmas 2021, I met with seven friends and family members who agreed to help out by pooling resources and effort, and a new project was born – Homeless Christmas Reach Out. We involved our children too. We prepared hot food, packed it into boxes, prepared tea and coffee in big flasks, bought lots of thermal socks, caps, gloves, jumpers, and sleeping bags and hit the road. We walked for 7 to 10 km each evening around the city, looking for the homeless and reaching out to them. We went to them, asked their permission, and distributed what we had.

Lessons Learnt:

While there are some inhibitions about safety when approaching the homeless, our experience was quite pleasant. We found those people we approached mostly respectful, and to our surprise, quite content, only accepting what they need and happy to share their food and possessions with others. They were also immensely grateful for the help they received; their gratitude quite palpable.

Striking up a conversation with them revealed that even if they wanted to, they struggled to get back to work. And the general consensus was that the first six months of homelessness were the harshest as they learned how to survive without a roof over their heads, and how to secure their next meal. We also learnt that mental health issues and domestic abuse are some of the main reasons people hit the streets. In fact, in December 2021, I met three young girls without a home. At least one of these was only 17, and another had completed a course in dentistry.

Lingering questions and possible solutions:

While the problem of homelessness is, without doubt, quite complex in nature, I cannot help but wonder whether digital, AI and data technology capabilities can help in preventing or identifying vulnerability early on. Can these tools be used to assist and empower social workers — homeless frontline workers, troubled families’ leads, social workers and those who support victims of domestic abuse? Could they provide the data or insights they need to help ease their workload? Is monetary aid, education, mental health support, provisions, shelter, and food sufficient to address the issue of homelessness? Surely fortunate citizens like us can join forces and pitch-in in some way; if yes, how? How can citizens, corporates, charities and local governments partner and help with vulnerability? Could some technology be put in place to gather all these possible resources and fight the issue of this fragmentation? All these questions have solutions, but it needs to be addressed collaboratively.

We have the technology that can help, but we’re looking for outreach projects we could support that could reach more vulnerable individuals if they had the right technology in place.

If you run a project or know of a project that could benefit from software to facilitate a collaborative inter-agency approach to getting support to those who need it, when they need it; reducing the number of people who end up homeless, mistreated or abused, then we’d love to hear from you.

If you’re passionate about helping those who don’t have the privilege of nestling into a cosy bed at night, safe and warm, dry and fed, and want to see just how many people we could help when we work together, contact us.

We are conducting a free webinar on AI & Data-Driven Digital capabilities to address the social vulnerability in the UK public sector on Thu, Jan 27th, 2022 10:00 AM GMT. Register now!

Blog Author

Kannan Jayaraman

EVP & Head of Digital Transformation, AI & Analytics

Related Blogs

17 Aug, 2021

Key takeaways from the Local Government Strategy

Last month, I attended the Local Government Strategy Forum at Heythrop Park...

Learn more
29 Nov, 2021

The production firehose cannot douse the flames

The pandemic effect on content production While we are all tired of hearing...

Learn more
26 Jul, 2022

12 steps to rolling out a successful digital

Digital taxation platforms weren’t something that Sakichi Toyoda was...

Learn more