In this series of posts we have highlighted that a casual observer or member of the general public could be forgiven for thinking that there are more rough sleepers in Northampton than there actually are.

The vast majority of rough sleepers in Northampton are currently staying in council paid for accommodation, free, and receiving three meals a day and support for their various needs, which Hope is involved in providing.

A couple, for their own reasons, have decided not to take up the offer, though we had success last week persuading one of those who had initially refused to take it up. We are also advocating for a couple of new ones to enter the provision, which we don’t control. Inside or out, we support them in our Hand Up provision.

Yet stubbornly, people still sometimes say, on social media posts, ‘there are far too many homeless, why don’t Hope/The council/whoever do something? How do they sleep in their warm beds at night…..etc

Of course, one rough sleeper is too many, but we strive everyday to find answers and solutions to the needs of every one.

In these posts we have been trying to explain that street life is complex and what you see is not always what you think it is. In this final post we focus on another group of people who may appear street homeless – but perhaps aren’t.

For nearly 50 years Hope has been feeding homeless people – off street. Nationwide and locally there are lots of people who through compassion and care decide to go out on the streets to feed people, with particular interest in the homeless. They set up a street service and people come and get fed – maybe 20, 30, 40 or more in any area everytime the provision is offered.

Many of these people who take this food may have a variety of complex and challenging needs. They may be desperately poor, they may be in a hostel, they may have mental health or addiction issues, they may just be lonely and in need of company. They may well be ‘NRPF’  or in immigration limbo, with no access to state support. Most will be housed, even if not always very well, and some, dependent on local services at any one time, may be rough sleepers.

But they aren’t all, and the person walking by, or indeed reading on social media, should not make the assumption that they are. Their presence as a crowd being fed tells us nothing about the scale of homelessness in an area. It tells us about needs and poverty, and it tells us about kindness and compassion.

So if you see a crowd getting fed at a feeding station, in Northampton, or London, or on TV in Scotland, then get angry. Not because they are all homeless and someone is failing on their job locally. No: be angry, but be angry because society is fragmented and people are atomised and lost, and people are really, really poor.

The government can change this through benefits and rules on wages, and by kinder treatment for migrants; employers can pay better wages; the housing system needs to be reformed so that housing is truly affordable and housed people don’t have to choose whether to eat or get cold in their homes. But please don’t take it at face value that people accessing free public food always = homelessness. It doesn’t. And no-one is saying they aren’t worthy of help, or judging, or criticising them.