Open your wallet or walk on by: what’s the best way to help Wigan’s homeless?

The Brick operations director, Louise Green, talks about dealing with the question most commonly asked of The Brick team: how should we help people on our streets?

Growing up in Canada, I remember walking everywhere with my dad, and if ever we saw someone on the street asking for support, he used to always give them money.

So, as I grew up, it became the normal thing for me to do. Give people money. I never asked any questions, I never spoke to the person, I just handed over money and walked away.

This carried on until 2011, when I started working for The Brick. I have been a support worker engaging with homeless individuals and I have learned a great deal about homelessness, begging and the detriment this can have on an individual’s life.

When I first started at The Brick, I was told you should never give money to people who appear to be homeless or in need on our streets. This advice came as both a shock and confusion to me, but six years later, I passionately live by this advice, and I want others to know why.

Many people share with us their concern over the number of people they walk past in Wigan town centre who appear to be homeless and in need; some saying they feel the numbers seem to be increasing everyday.

We all feel a need to help, but donating cash can hold someone back from turning their lives around. According to those we work with, people in Wigan can ‘earn’ about £60 to £100 per day – and many are seduced by this amount of cash. A person can sometimes not want to leave their spots to attend Job Centre appointments, to seek support from homeless agencies, to attend the GP or hospital. The individuals may slowly withdraw from the services that focus on long term change.

As we continue to give, we could be making it more comfortable for people to be on the streets, and then what incentive is there to come off? If we judge the support in purely monetary terms, £50 a week housing benefit cannot compete.

If you give food instead of money, this can also be a hindrance, as people can then use any money donated to them to fund self-destructive behaviours that may provide short term relief but hamper chances of a long-term recovery.

The Brick and other services out there can’t compete with the amount of money people may make on a daily basis when on the streets, put we can help give non-monetary support which can give a person their life back.

The Brick is open to all to provide a range of services that help people out of poverty and homelessness and we have an outreach programme operating twice a week. We offer showers, breakfast and most importantly support to help people into a better way of life.

Is this possible? Of course it is, we have had several successes. But it’s not easy. All our successes have come from the individuals themselves, deciding they have had enough. Whatever their reasons are, The Brick and other valuable services’ doors are open for support. Once they decide to seek out support, the journey really begins for both them and the services providing that support.

To walk away and not put any money in a person’s cup, can really pull at our heart strings, but ultimately, putting money in that cup, has only made you or I feel better. What would be better for the individual would be to take a minute to stop and ask if they are engaging with services and pass on your knowledge of The Brick to set them upon the right path to rebuilding their lives.

You can help The Brick provide much needed support for people across the borough who are affected by poverty by getting involved in our first ever fundraising appeal- the Rebuilding Lives campaign. Find out more: