Take One Leave One – A New Way to Help the Homeless

Yves here. The “Take One Leave One” idea is an improved stopgap for helping the homeless. And I suspect most people will give more when they feel they are giving something concrete, like a meal or some clothes. But the article is correct to stress the need for larger-scale solutions.

By Stefan Simanowitz, who works for Amnesty International. Originally published at openDemocracy

Image: Take One, Leave One

At some point today, you probably walked past one of the 5,000 people who slept rough last night and temperatures across the UK plummet, the situation facing rough sleepers becomes more desperate than ever.

In October, research revealed that 449 homeless people had died over the previous year on the country’s streets. Since then, an average of three homeless people have died every week.

According to Crisis, there are currently 236,000 people across England, Scotland, and Wales who are experiencing the worst forms of homelessness: this includes people living on the streets, in cars and tents, in shelters, or in unsuitable temporary accommodation.

Their situation is a result of government policy which has led to the housing shortage, the lack of homelessness prevention schemes and a woefully inadequate benefits system.

This week, as Arctic winds bring snow and sub-zero temperatures to British shores, a new community-led initiative was launched in London to try and help rough sleepers.

On bitterly cold Tuesday morning, a clothes rail was set up outside the Holy Redeemer church on London’s bustling Exmouth Market beneath a sign that read: “If you are cold, take one. If you can help, leave one.” By the afternoon, the rail was filled with warm clothes – jackets, coats, hats, gloves, blankets and scarves – and homeless people were stopping by to take whatever they needed. “Actions like these make me feel hope” one woman tweeted alongside before and after photos of the rail.

As well as the clothes rail, a string of ‘pledge cards’ offer homeless people free food, drinks and other services. The pledge cards are either bought by locals from shops at a discounted price or donated by shopkeepers . More than a dozen businesses on the street have got involved and almost 100 meals and hot drinks were donated in the first day alone, in the form of pledges.

“This is a brilliantly simple idea and one we are excited to be a part of,” said Ellie Pamphilon who runs a barbershop on the street and has donated several haircuts and beard trims. “After their cut and blow-dry, our customers can buy a discounted pledge card to give a homeless person a haircut that they hang by the Take One Leave One Rail.”

If the pledge scheme takes off, it could give a much-needed boost to the local economy and could even be a model that could help struggling high streets across the country. There are also possibilities for the pledging principle to spill beyond the high street, with one person already offering to pledge a dinner for rough sleepers in their home and another looking into pledging rooms in local hotels.

The Take One Leave One initiative is not new. Similar clothes rails have been set up in other parts of the UK and around the world, and part of its beauty is that it can be replicated in any street. It is hoped the initiative will encourage others across the UK to be inspired and set up a clothes rail wherever they are. Those more ambitious could ask local shop keepers to get involved in a pledge scheme.

By doing so, they will not only help to ensure homeless people are warm and fed this winter, but will also help break down the barriers that too often make rough sleepers feel invisible in the communities in which they live.

Whilst Take One, Leave One may offer some respite for rough sleepers in the coming weeks, initiatives such as this can only have a small, short-term impact. What is needed is government action. In Finland, homelessness was eliminated through its “housing first” policy which offers people who need them permanent places to call home.

Last year, Crisis set out a plan to end homelessness within 10 years and called on all political parties to commit to working towards this goal. After all, ending homelessness is not a utopian dream. All that is needed the will to act.

To find out more about the project, check them out on Twitter and Facebook 

To order a banner & pledge cards contact mail@adlephigraphics.com

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  1. albrt

    “What is needed is government action.”

    Unfortunately, we are not in that part of the historical cycle. Government action in this part of the cycle will consist of selling you to a banker/capitalist/innovator or shooting you, depending on context.

    Do something like this without government assistance if you have a chance. That is the only way to get to the next part of the cycle.

    1. Anarcissie

      Food Not Bombs has been doing this for years, as have many others including anarchist free stores, church groups, and the homeless themselves. It’s kind of odd that this is suddenly a Thing now. I’m thinking that “Actions like these make me feel hope” may actually be part of the problem. We don’t deserve hope yet. Meanwhile, if you want to keep someone alive through a winter night, they need some kind of shelter, as well as a coat — old cars and vans, sleeping bags, tarpaulins, refrigerator boxes. And call the cops off.

      1. Cal2

        Skateboard rats from Fort Bragg who left home and wanna hang in the Tenderloin with good tweak thank you for your efforts.

  2. The Rev Kev

    This is an excellent idea this and it would not take much organizing to introduce it on a massive scale. But – and you knew that there was going to be a but – this is treating the symptom of a sickness in our society and not the cause. Remember that all this homelessness was the result of deliberate government policies with these people being the collateral damage done. There could have been put in place many measures to ameliorate these people’s conditions but instead these people were simply abandoned by their government. Maybe there is that much a disconnect between the people on the streets and the leaders in the UK. We have a serious homeless problem in Oz but at least there is at least a token effort to break down this disconnect. Every year the St Vincent de Paul Society organizes an annual sleep-out for business, community and government leaders and to raise several million dollars. It is not that much but it is something-


  3. Joe Well

    This points up how much distrust there is in nonprofits that typically do this kind of relief. Their administrative and fundraising expenses are huge, and they try to build up enormous endowments for a “rainy day” so that no one can say how much of your donation will go towards the cause. In the US, the two poster children for this are probably the Wounded Warrior Project and the American Red Cross.

    Not to mention the management scandals like at Oxfam UK.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I don’t know about the UK, but in the US, I can’t name a non-profit that helps the homeless except by feeding them. I give to several engaged in various forms of food relief. Another charity in NYC organizes a winter coat drive, but I don’t know of any engaging in more comprehensive assistance. And I’m on mailing lists, so you think I’d be solicited. That says the ones that focus on homelessness don’t have much backing, particularly from bigger foundations or marquee donors.

      1. Joe Well

        You have a point re: national full-service homeless charities, and I’d never thought of that. The only one that came immediately to mind was The Salvation Army. The rest I could think of were all food-related like Second Harvest, or locally based, especially specific shelters.

  4. Eclair

    This is a beginning. To begin to ‘see’ homeless people as existing, living, breathing instead of turning our heads and stepping over their bodies.

    To begin to acknowledge homeless people as fellow humans, who deserve our compassion, not as some lower, sub-species, who ‘deserve’ to live in tents and carry their possessions on their backs.

    And, then, to ask; why, cheek by jowl with billionaires who fly in their private jets between multiple 8,000 square foot homes that stand empty most of the year, thousands of people must suffer the indignity having only a blanket and a black plastic garbage bag to call ‘home.’

    1. Joe Well

      Here in Boston, USA, it’s not the billionaires creating homelessness. It’s the lower rungs of the 1% and even the 2% who have ferociously blocked new housing construction in many municipalities so that now a single family home in formerly working class areas now goes for well over $1 million, which was precisely their goal. By cornering the market, homeowners in central Greater Boston have made themselves multimillionaires and small time landlords are doing even better.

      The worst offender for many years was “progressive” Cambridge which opposed development under the guise of historical preservation and then with the perversely illogical claim that new housing would mean gentrification.

      Cambridge is belatedly building new housing but there is now such pent up demand that it is overwhelmingly higher income people moving in. The state is thumping its chest at other municipalities that still refuse to build but the sanctions are modest and the cost to municipal budgets of children and lower income people are high.

  5. Cal2

    Looks like a wonderful way to reuse clothing and prevent its waste when out of fashion tattered etc. An extension of the Little Free Libraries, which in the S.F.Bay Area, are becoming places to leave more than just books for community reuse.

    Warm clothing left out however is only going to exacerbate ‘homelessness’ In San Francisco, which is the American mecca for wandering homeless.

    One difference. Lack of National Health Care, which I assume in Britain, means free drug treatment and rehabilitation services.

    Housing policy in Britain affects people more than in the U.S. I believe there are only five million private landlords there, per the oft repeated figure on various BBC television programs like “Can’t Pay, We’ll Take It Away,” or “Nightmare Tenants and Landlords.” Both TV series on Netflix, and well worth watching for an insight into what the typical British rented home looks like, inside and out, as well as their tenants.

    Another reason, hard drugs. San Francisco is the preferred destination for drug users and social re-inventors, from anything from nearby towns to different states to foreign countries, who flock to the $70,000 worth of overall services paid for by the city taxpayers, per homeless, per year. Those plus the zero enforcement of local vagrancy laws and the ability to pretty much do anything anywhere on city sidewalks short of physically assaulting people. Violent ‘panhandling’ is ignored.

    Most “homeless” in San Francisco are voluntary arrivals, bringing with them previous problems and finding here inducements to continue and amplify them.

    Put out warm clothing for our ‘cold nights’, meaning 55 degrees, and it will be taken up and used. It will solve no problems, only add to the list of inducements to come here.

    My observations are based on 60+ years of living here, being briefly homeless 50 years ago and having worked in Saint Anthony’s dining room for the homeless.

    San Francisco’s sanctuary city status definitely exacerbates the high cost of rent and housing.

    1. JBird4049

      Their situation is a result of government policy which has led to the housing shortage, the lack of homelessness prevention schemes and a woefully inadequate benefits system.


      Most “homeless” in San Francisco are voluntary arrivals, bringing with them previous problems and finding here inducements to continue and amplify them.

      As a native born Bay Arean, I have to push back on the “it’s all the outsiders fault.” The homelessness has been increasing for actual decades, right? Remember Camp Agnos at the city hall plaza back in the 90s?

      The City is only the local epicenter. Throughout the whole of the San Francisco Bay Area as the cost of housing has been rising faster than most people’s income since the 1970s especially as all those techies have moved here from elsewhere, all the other decently paying jobs have disappeared, with almost no housing being built for even middle class workers, it has become a damned disaster; there are probably over 10,000 homeless just in San Francisco alone.

      Just like the rest of the United States, California has a wealthy inner Blue core with plenty of jobs, but almost no new working or middle class housing being built, and an increasingly poor outer Red belt, which is why California is not a liberal as some might think.

      So as HUD, the federal Housing and Urban Development agency, has in its guidelines that it takes over $80,000 for a family to afford housing, wages for most have remained low, and the only affordable housing is over fifty, more likely a hundred, miles drive by car away from the centers of San Francisco and San Jose, we all have a problem. Somehow, my family could rent an entire house on working, or even poor, class income in San Jose, admittedly fifty years ago while middle, even upper middle class families find renting an apartment difficult today. We could even buy a house with just a very middle class income.

      So what do we do with both political parties in California divorced from their supposed constituents? I cannot stress this enough, whatever your beliefs or ideology, left, liberal, libertarian or conservative, poor or middle class, with an increasingly corrupt and dysfunctional government at all levels, you do not have anyone really representing or working for you. At the very least, you need to be an upper middle class college educated liberal and then you might start to have them do so.

      So we have politicians pass faux gun control laws at the municipal and state level, but public toilets, forget about new housing, is not built. The former is political kabuki and the latter cost money and might invite the poors even though the poors are increasingly lower middle class. I have not done any serious research on the mortality and sickness rates of homeless or those living in their vehicles compared to those on guns in California, but since with have typhus and hepatitis epidemics in Southern California, plus all the other lovely health problems throughout the state due to the housing crisis.

      I am harping on guns because it’s the sexy issue that gets the money and media to get useless feel good state propositions passed, but the poor can go just die. No proposition for them. Occasionally, it’s OMG and some mandate is passed somewhere, but nothing changes. Only when typhus threatened the lives of city employees or when the techies started to really notice the smells in San Francisco is anything remotely useful being done.

      We need a revolution.

      1. Cal2

        “homelessness has been increasing for actual decades, right? Remember Camp Agnos at the city hall plaza back in the 90s?”
        Dude, I remember NAFTAville at Third Street where it crosses Fourth in the early 1980s, hundreds of RVs parked down the street from the “offical” RV park at Third and Townsend where the old Southern Pacific depot had been located.
        Those RV dwellers were mostly drift-ins as well. It’s been happening since the days of the Haight Ashbury.

        The only homeless in San Francisco are those who were born and bred there. Of those there are more and more, mostly the children of long term housing projects dwellers.

        Restating the obvious is not a solution to problems. I suggest you study the creation of money by the federal reserve as as part of the increase in housing prices, as well as the financialization of our economy. Michael Hudson’s a great place to start. I got lost with the guns as typhus nexus.

        1. JBird4049

          I think on some of this will just have to be honest disagreement. :-)

          I am aware of the unfilled luxury apartments already built with more coming and of the massive money laundering world wide as well as the nearly free money that the Fed is giving away to the people who already have money; all this money has to be parked somewhere. For instance the investment firms buying up apartments or the overseas people looking to hide their money.

          I don’t think that in a single generation a horde of Americans decided that living on the street is what to do. I do know that the ratio of income to housing costs blew through the roof three decades ago and is now in orbit perhaps on its way to the Moon.

          On the guns and typhus I was trying to point out that some problems like housing are mostly ignored except for hot air, some issues like guns get plenty of loving attention because it gets the votes and donations, and finally in the Banana Republic of California major epidemics are dealt with by bandaids like bleaching the sidewalks after government workers started getting sick. The conditions that caused them like the housing shortage in all the metropolitan areas or the lack of toilets are still ignored except with the hot air. The state and local governments don’t really care about the shortages so nothing is truly done.

          1. JBird4049

            The conditions that caused them like the housing shortage in all the metropolitan areas or the lack of toilets are still ignored except with the hot air. The state and local governments don’t really care about the shortages so nothing is truly done.

            TL;DR explanation.

  6. Stephanie

    A few of thoughts on the logistics of this, that point to why small stop-gaps are helpful in very short-term situations but they are just that, stop-gaps:

    – I like the idea of the pledge cards, but I think its important to keep them very local to the organization handing them out so the person receiving them can redeem them quickly. If there are cards on offer for really necessary, really helpful services outside a short walking distance, include bus or train fare, or a gas gift card, with them. “Free” stuff that’s unobtainable isn’t helpful.

    – If you’re going to give away goods, please make sure they are quality goods. Yeah, something is better than nothing but cotton socks and unlined acrylic gloves & hats are pretty much worthless when it hits 15 below fahrenheit, especially if the person wearing them is spending a lot of time outside. I don’t wear them and I have a house and a car. If you’re promoting this at all, consider promoting wicking socks, other layerables, and waterproof (or at least not water-absorbing) items.

    – If you’re going to give away goods or have a collection site in the open air, you need someone who can monitor the site a few times a day & make sure its being maintained. In my experience people like giving away materials goods (hats, coats, mittens), they just don’t like seeing them junk up their neighborhood – and yes, after a week or two passes, that is how some people will view it. Our small, almost completely volunteer-run church eventually had to remove the clothing drop-off box in our parking lot because so many middle-class KonMarists were dropping off old chairs, TVs, baby furniture (which Goodwill won’t accept), etc. next to it, none of which the non-profit who owned the box wanted. This created a lot of back-and-forth between the church and the non-profit about whose responsibility it was to remove these items, neighbors complained, the police were involved – all of which sidelined other work the church wanted to do.

  7. lordkoos

    I read the other day that the the city of Chicago, which has 140,000 homeless, had asked churches to open their doors to help people escape the sub-zero cold. Out of 70-something churches asked, only 14 agreed. Christian America in a nutshell.

    1. kareninca

      “Ministries provide 60 percent of emergency shelter spots available in 11 major American cities, and the more faith-based shelters operating, the smaller its homeless population, according to a Baylor University study published last month.” (https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2017/march/christian-approach-fighting-homelessness-pays-off-baylor.html)

      The only people I know locally (Silicon Valley) who are providing non-government shelter are religious (mostly Christian, due to demographics) people. Perhaps things are different where you live.

      1. kareninca

        Another thing – you might be surprised how tiny and destitute any given church is. My neighbor goes to a Lutheran church with an official congregation of about 100. On a given Sunday there will be at most 20 people attending. Nonetheless, they are taking their turn hosting a homeless shelter. It is a lot of work; it is not just a matter of “opening their doors.” They provide a hot meal every night, and also they have to carefully supervise. A lot of the homeless people they host do have psychological problems and substance abuse problems and there are some tense moments or worse, even in the women’s only set-ups. But the church ladies (it is mostly women) are committed to this since they feel it is very important. Along with the impetus of their faith, they could end up homeless too, they know.

        If you drove past this church, you would think it was big and rich. But it isn’t. And I bet a lot of the 70 churches asked in Chicago are even smaller and broker.

        1. Stephanie

          Or they don’t have showers or to-code kitchens. Minneapolis had a law until 2015 that mandated that emergency shelters could only be housed in houses of worship; why I have no idea. After awhile people running the shelters found that church basements aren’t really well-designed for housing people and had the law changed. Now I believe you need a hotel or lodging license to be a shelter, for which I am guessing a lot of smaller/broker churches don’t qualify.

    2. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      I think we can all help out…colleges with their empty classrooms at night, gyms, auditoriums, government offices, climate controlled document storage facilities, ACLU offices, etc.

    3. Simeon Hope

      I’m an atheist. Much of the social action in my town (in NE England) to give practical help to the neediest is done by religious groups, as it always has been.

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