Explainer: What to do if you see someone sleeping rough?
July 25 2022
People sleeping rough on the streets are experiencing the most visible and extreme form of homelessness.
“Making a difference… Sometimes it starts from the very littlest thing, even just offering a few dollars and saying, ‘Hey, how are you?'”
-Ivy, a Victorian who was previously homeless.
In our cities, rough sleeping (also known as street homelessness) is a visible issue. We know people tend to sleep rough in highly populated locations due to greater access to services and a sense of safety that comes with a constant bustle of people. But every day is a constant struggle for people experiencing this extreme form of homelessness.
It can be really confronting to see someone on the street and not know how to help. Luckily, there are things you can do, both small and large, to move from feeling hopeless to helpful.
Helping in the moment
Simply looking someone in the eye or smiling is an important way to acknowledge someone’s humanity and worth. Acknowledgement can make someone feel seen and a part of the community.
The most important thing to remember when thinking about how to help someone who is sleeping rough is the person’s dignity and value as a human being.
Our frontline workers say the best way to support someone in the moment is to ask that person what they need. If you have the means and feel comfortable doing so, you can give people money or goods directly. If you prefer to provide goods rather than money, ask the person what they need in that moment. Everyone’s needs and circumstances are different day to day so asking goes a long way. If in doubt, money provides a person the most options to address their immediate needs.
If you’re comfortable and it feels appropriate, you can engage with someone by having a conversation. Connection and communication are incredibly important for people who may feel otherwise outcast from the community. Do keep in mind personal space and the person’s willingness to engage, and ensure you respect boundaries. Avoid taking photos or recordings of the person and ensure you maintain your own privacy.
There is also no shame in helping out in different ways if you don’t feel comfortable engaging with someone right there and then. Do what feels right for you.
Should I suggest local services to someone sleeping rough?
If you are concerned about whether someone is receiving support, contact and notify your local council. These notifications lead to referrals to services like Launch Housing to go out and assist.
If it seems appropriate, you may want to ask someone directly if they are aware of or connected with support in their area. It’s important to keep in mind it’s likely a person you’ve seen rough sleeping has had an interaction or is receiving ongoing support from a local service. The journey out of homelessness, and its timeframe, is unique for each person.
Useful contacts to link people sleeping rough to appropriate support:
- For people in the areas of Stonnington, Port Phillip, Frankston, Dandenong and City of Melbourne you can call the Rough Sleeper’s Initiative on (03) 8598 1170.
- For people in the areas of City of Yarra, Moreland or Darebin you can contact the Assertive Outreach team at Launch Housing Collingwood on (03) 9288 9611.
- In other areas, you can find out who the local housing access point is by calling Opening Doors on 1800 825 555. This is a free call number that operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Your call will be answered by a worker who can put you in touch with an organisation closest to you.
- Importantly, if the person requires emergency medical attention please call an ambulance.
Help create longer term change
Did you know Launch Housing supported 15,000+ Melburnians last year with housing, support, education, youth and specialist services? One off donations like yours make a difference – but regular gifts (eg monthly donations) enable organisations to plan most effectively to make even deeper impacts in future. If you have the means, you can make a tax-deductible donation to Launch Housing, or another homelessness organisation to help support their mission.
Take Action with Melbourne Zero
Melbourne Zero, powered by Launch Housing, is a growing movement of Melburnians who know we should and can end homelessness in our city. Head to the Melbourne Zero website to join the movement and discover all the actions you can take today to make a real difference.
How Does Launch Housing Help People Sleeping Rough?
Launch housing has two specialist programs working with people who are sleeping rough. The Melbourne Street to Home program provides coordinated housing, support services and health intervention targeted at Melbourne’s most vulnerable rough sleepers.
The Rough Sleepers Initiative works with people who are sleeping rough within the council areas of Melbourne, Stonnington, Port Phillip, Yarra, Frankston and Dandenong. The program aims to ensure a responsive, immediate service connecting rough sleepers to accommodation (crisis and long-term) and health services, as well as reconnecting them to pre-existing support or establishing new supports.
The above advice was developed in consultation with Launch Housing’s Rough Sleepers Initiative team, insights from people with lived experience of homelessness and from Probono Australia’s podcast featuring Launch Housing’s George Hatvani and Akemi, who has a lived experience of homelessness. You can listen to the podcast here.