7 months ago, just as I was walking into the cinema, a man in his early 70s came up to me and asked if I knew where the nearest homeless shelter was. It had been snowing all day. The pavement was icy. The temperature was sub-zero. I had no idea what to say. I bought the man a meal, searched online for a shelter, and none were open for walk-ins. We sat with him for a while, told him about where to go first thing in the morning for help and left. His parting words were ‘you’re not going to leave me here are you?’. Later that night I drove back to the area, wracked with guilt and worry, equipped with warm clothing and bedding, and spent 2 hours trying to find him. I didn’t.
I’ve always felt so awful for rough sleepers I pass on the street, but this was different. I was a middle-class 28 year-old going home to my warm house with central heating and a bed, and I had done literally nothing to deserve it. Nothing. Not one thing. I couldn’t compute an elderly man having to come up to me and ask for help, and me not being able to.
2 weeks later, together with my sister and a team of incredibly dedicated friends and family, we set up Linkey, a non-profit social enterprise for the homeless. We have an online shop where people can buy essential items (sleeping bags, socks, hats, rucksacks, toiletries) and we send them to shelters around the UK, as well as hand-delivering to rough sleepers across London every month. Every penny you spend goes on an item. Our map shows you which shelters in the UK we have already sent items to (28 and counting).
What I’ve realised is that people want to help. People know how lucky they are. The issue is so vast and complex that often one of the biggest barriers is finding a tangible and small way to do something. That is what we have tried to offer through Linkey. We want to link those who care with those who need. Maybe you have no cash on you. Maybe you’re in a rush to a meeting. Maybe you’re worried about giving money. Go online, spend a small amount, and know that we will be sending items to where they are needed most.
We are very aware that what we are doing is short-term help. We have no idea how to solve the wider issue. There are plenty of charities out there looking at policy. If we help one person survive a cold night who would otherwise not have had that thermal hat, or sleeping bag, then it was worth it.
The most rewarding part of what we do is talking to people on the street. You wouldn’t believe how delighted, surprised and grateful someone is about receiving a basic item like a hat or pair of socks from a stranger. Rough sleepers are used to being ignored. When I pass a rough sleeper I try to spend some time talking to them. I shake their hand, look them in the eye, ask their name, and see if there’s some common ground. One guy I met in Camden used to be a roadie for The Clash. We spoke about music for twenty minutes.
In our first few months, it was freezing cold, and people were buying from our website. We were getting some great press coverage. The past 2 months have been quiet. We expected it, but it doesn’t seem fair. Yes, being on the streets in the freezing cold is incredibly dangerous, but when summer hits, it is just as scary, lonely and dangerous. We launched our summer pack last month (refillable water bottle, sun cream, hat, wet wipes) and we will be out giving items to homeless people all summer. That person you felt sorry for in December is no better off in June just because it’s not snowing. They are still without a home or hope.
The homeless issue in the UK is noticeable to everyone. So many people talk to me about ‘the guy they saw last night’, or the ‘woman on the train coming into work’. We can’t help everyone, and as an individual you can’t solve the crisis, but together we can do something. This applies in summer as much as it does winter.
Co-Founder of Linkey