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Next Year - Let's Not Feed the Homeless at Christmas.

I can't think of a recent year - certainly not in the last decade - in which so much good will has been shown towards 'the homeless' of my home city, Hull, at Christmas.

Let's recap:

The boxer Tommy Coyle, whom I first met in summer 2013 when I was covering the 'One Hull of a Boat' story, fed 40 homeless people at Hull's fine 1884 restaurant on Monday 21st December. Here's the Hull Daily Mail's coverage of Tommy's generous gesture:

Additionally, Dope Burger pitched in to distribute packed lunches on Christmas Day, after opening earlier on the day for local sex-industry icon Mistress Dita - and Big Issue vendor Pat McKenzie - to distribute other generous gifts. Again, here's the Hull Daily Mail's coverage:

Then, on top of these, both Curry Leaf takeaway on Hessle Road and Nofretete cafe on Newland Avenue also joined-in with generous support - offering free food for 'homeless' visitors on Christmas Day.

Good on you all, and I'm sorry if I've overlooked any festive gesture. What you achieved has not just been measured by media coverage and filled bellies, but also by the smiles on faces and warmth of your welcome. Thanks.

But - and you'll be expecting this if you've read this far - I have to ask: "What do homeless people eat for the rest of the year?"

I attended a meeting at County Hall Beverley earlier in December, at which representatives from the East Riding of Yorkshire's many homelessness organisations provided updates about their year-round work and requirements. A project from Goole outlined its work with the town's small number of rough-sleepers, informing us that it's quite well resourced with sleeping bags, and goods in its food bank. A project from Bridlington, however, expressed its concern about finding the money needed to provide emergency short-term accommodation for young teenagers that have temporarily been estranged from the safety of the family home. Other projects brought us up-to-date with their need for resources to tackle clients' poor mental health, or addictions, or debt.

I hear very similar stories when I attend homelessness sector related meetings in Hull too.

So, isn't it right that we should stop putting so much effort into feeding people caught in homelessness, and broaden our efforts into activities that may transform lives instead?

Let me be bold. The financial resources expended by Tommy Coyle to feed 40 people from the city's homelessness hostels, in what became a media circus, could have paid for a trained outreach worker for a month - which may result in at least one person from around those tables making the positive transition into self-sustained accommodation, or employment, or freedom from addiction - that would put a more lasting smile on their (and our) faces, wouldn't it?

The councils and homelessness organisations of the Humber region have an excellent reputation - when compared nationally - for supporting those caught in the chaos of homelessness and poor housing, and for tackling the many related issues such as health, addiction, and debt. They do, however, continue their transformative work with government budgets that are reduced annually, and year-on-year greater competition for third-sector grant funding.

It drives me to despair to see resources directed, however well meant, to short-term, sticking plaster, first aid initiatives. There's so much more that can be achieved with those resources of cash, good will, and public attention.

In 2016 we need to stem the rise in numbers of rough-sleepers locally, which have approximately doubled in the last 5 years. We need to better support foreign-nationals who are more likely to experience housing-related crisis. We need to tackle the growing use of psycho-active substances (so-called 'legal highs') amongst our population, especially young people and those already living in the hostels. We need to educate people into ways of 'living better for less'. We need to support people's journey off zero-hours contracts and into better employment - we may need to generate some of those jobs by encouraging and supporting social enterprise and the local economy. We need to campaign for better provision and wider access to mental health services locally, and support people's best use of personalised care budgets. We need to support local housing associations if their budgets are cut due to aligning Housing Benefit with the Local Housing Allowance.

There's so much more to be achieved with your cash, and good will, and the public's attention - than just filling people's bellies, and putting a smile on people's faces, at Christmas. Any one of the homelessness organisations you'll read about here at Humber Help will welcome your year-round attention.

Perhaps next Christmas, with your support in 2016, there'll be fewer mouths turning up to be fed.

Please do get in touch if I can help you to direct your passion to transform lives.

Jerome Whittingham
Editor: Humber Help

27th December 2015