Just over two years ago I was chatting to a man sat reading at the base of the Playfair steps. It was November and freezing cold. I asked him what the best thing he was ever given whilst being a rough sleeper was and he told me ‘a hot water bottle’. I always find it difficult knowing the right etiquette of what to give rough sleepers or anyone who is asking for help on the street…
Giving food without asking what in particular someone might like is always patronising and dehumanising. Often even asking someone if they do want anything can feel rude and equally as condescending. I try and give money whenever I can but I know that there are a lot of people who want to help but feel hesitant to hand over cash when they don’t know it is going to be used for (an idea I disagree with but know that some people have). I had always wanted to find the possible right solution and thanks to this man we had, hot water bottles!
So I called up a friend, Rufus Gooder, and asked him if he wanted to start up a charitable organisation with me with the sole aim of buying hot water bottles through donations and giving them out to rough sleepers. That same day we did, he came up with the perfect name; Heat for the Homeless. We created a page on Facebook and started fundraising right away. We then started going around the city and asking cafes if they’d want to get on board with our cause and agree to have a sign up in the window saying they’d be willing to re-fill the hot water bottles once they’d lost their heat (see below). It felt like a perfect short term solution. What can we give that is always beneficial, always wanted, doesn’t create a sense of hierarchy and creates the possibility to sit and chat with people; heat!
We started doing a hand out every other week or so. We’d post on Facebook saying we were doing it and give an address to meet at where we would fill up 20 hot water bottles or so then send off pairs of people to different areas of the city trying to hand out as many as possible and bring a little warmth to some people’s lives.
Heat for the Homeless has now been up and running officially for 2 years. On the 10th November 2017 we did our first ever hand out and since then we have handed out over 500 hot water bottles in Edinburgh alone. One of the most exciting elements of it was when students messaged us from other cities asking it they could start up their own branches! We now have sister teams in Leeds, Oxford and North London just to name a few.
I’m always at my happiest when I’m doing something to do with Heat for the Homeless. Whether it’s doing a bake sale outside the library to raise money for hot water bottles or doing the handouts themselves. By providing heat and conversation to people forced to live on the streets, we’ve found we’re able to make the ordeal a little less hazardous and allow students to interact with people suffering in the city around them. It is incredibly important for us to establish a dialogue with people living on the street in order to stop them feeling alienated and alone in such a harsh environment. You have fun, meet amazing people and get to be part of trying to find a solution rather than constantly complaining about the world around you.
Make a new friend and give the gift of warmth this winter! Donate to Heat for the Homeless or follow them on Facebook for opportunities to get in involved.