Could I cope with living on the streets?

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1. Street life

Although hard to believe, homelessness continues to be a big problem in the UK.

The reasons people find themselves in this situation are many, and vary from person to person. Some of those might include a lack of employment or affordable housing, income inequality, substance abuse, poor health, relationship abuse, the rising cost of living standards and more.

While each homeless person's story is unique, one thing is clear: it could happen to anyone – even you. So could you survive a life spent on the streets?

2. WATCH: How did we get here?

Watch the video below to find out about the contributing factors and main reasons people find themselves living on the streets in the UK in 2016.

3. Making it through

John Bird remembers life on the streets

Falling into homelessness is bad news. When you become homeless you are no longer a part of society, no longer a part of democracy - you fall through the cracks and become nothing more than a statistic.

Having been there myself I do not recommend it.

As a child and as a young man I would walk around places I knew and they were made different because I had nowhere to go. Once the pubs closed, once the shops shut, once the street lights came on, there was nothing.

And it’s then you realise how many people are out there to prey on you, to use you. You will be surprised how many people have a warm place where you will be safe… until you get there.

Make no mistake, homelessness is the pits. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. There are people who can help.

Making a difference

There are groups out there who can lift you out of homelessness. Working tirelessly to offer help and support, they can make all the difference when it comes to someone surviving the streets.

And that’s why it’s important for us to support these groups, to help them help others.

If you see a vulnerable person hiding or sleeping rough then let these groups know so they can offer that help, so they can get vulnerable people off the streets as soon as possible.

Can people survive a life on the streets? Can they find their way out of a lifetime of homelessness? Yes they can, but only with that crucial help.

It really can make all the difference.

4. A day in the life

Living on the streets can be different for each person. However, according to a case study by a Wales-based homeless charity, there are certain experiences common to a number of people. Click through the different time panels in the slideshow to see what a person living on the streets may face on a daily basis.

7:30am – Wake up, pack up belongings, take tent down, find somewhere to stash belongings, head towards city centre.

Illustration: James Chapman

8:30am – Meet the Breakfast Run team – a charity-run service offering hot breakfast, coffee and support to rough sleepers – chat to staff, ask for essentials if required – e.g. might be in need of clean socks, a new sleeping bag.

Illustration: James Chapman

9:30am – Attend a drop-in centre – staff assist with housing applications, benefits claims, registering with a GP, emergency dental treatment, reading mail. Tea and coffee is served, it’s a chance to talk to people and stay dry and warm.

Illustration: James Chapman

11am – Hanging around, walking through town – not much to do.

Illustration: James Chapman

12pm – Another drop-in centre – church-run centres tend to be open on weekdays but they can be seasonal, or shut down due to lack of volunteers. Lunch is served, laundry facilities and sometimes showers are available, but if not wet wipes are used.

Illustration: James Chapman

2pm-5pm – Might visit a library, can access the internet – keeping in touch with family/friends, applying for jobs, housing, etc. Or might visit a museum – somewhere to stay warm and dry, the collections change which is great for alleviating boredom.

Illustration: James Chapman

5pm–6pm – Pop back to check belongings, might grab an extra layer of clothing or change wet socks. Might decide to move belongings elsewhere if area seems less safe, or might be an area where security guards have asked you to move on.

Illustration: James Chapman

6pm–11pm – Not much to do, public buildings closed. Might just mill around, might beg for money – could be used to buy food, drinks, drugs, or even to attend the budget cinema. Can be a very boring/lonely part of the day.

Illustration: James Chapman

11pm – Find somewhere to stay the night or return to regular spot.

Illustration: James Chapman

11pm–7:30am – But sleep all depends on how safe the area feels. If situation changes and you feel more vulnerable, you might move on to a different location through the night.

Illustration: James Chapman

5. Surviving the streets

The following advice is based on information from various homeless charities on how people can survive living on the streets and where to get help if they find themselves homeless.

  1. It’s important to stay warm. Day centres provide warmth and shelter when it’s cold or raining, and are usually open during the day.
  2. Find a safe place to sleep where other people are sleeping, like a hostel or cold shelter. Brightly lit, sheltered areas are best.
  3. Free and cheap food is available to you. Charities may provide soup runs, while food banks can also help. Day centres often offer cheap meals too.
  4. If you need to store your belongings for a limited amount of time it’s worth checking with day centres and hostels as they may be able to do this.
  5. You can still claim benefits if you don’t have a permanent address. Benefits can be claimed through Jobcentre Plus, where you can also find work.
  6. Keep in touch with friends and families by using the phone in a day centre, or by email at your local library.
  7. You can register with a doctor if you don't have a fixed address. NHS walk-in centres have emergency care, and day centres have medical support.