Don't walk away

Some months ago a man was found impaled on the railings of a park in Kensington, one of the most affluent areas in London.

Several people walked past him before the emergency services were called. Ed Boord, the man who found him, was on his way to work early in the morning and barely made out the shape of the body in the darkness. The person who would later be identified as Pawel Koseda was homeless at the time of his death. It’s unclear whether those who passed by him without stopping simply didn’t see him or didn’t want to get involved. Boord, who was emotionally disturbed by the incident and wants to support homelessness charities, told the Independent: “We get so ingrained in our London lifestyle. We’re so… selfish.”

How often have you walked by someone who was begging for money or sleeping rough, wanting to help them but not knowing how or if they would accept the help you’re offering? In a public situation where there are a lot of people and someone needs help most people will do nothing and wait for someone else to step in. This is known in social psychology as the bystander effect. In extreme circumstances anonymous individuals can be violently assaulted or even die while a number of onlookers fail to intervene or call for help. This is even more likely to happen when someone is or appears to be homeless, as this and other social experiments suggest.

If you do want to help, it’s not a good idea to give money. The person you want to help may have a history of addiction. If this is the case, giving money would enable the addiction and could prevent them from seeking the support they need. It would be far better to offer them something to eat or a cup of tea. But even if you don’t want to give people food or supplies directly, there is another alternative to simply walking away.

Using Streetlink, a service aimed at supporting those who are sleeping rough, you can use an app or call them to give the details of the location of a vulnerable person so that they can respond. Those who are rough sleepers find it difficult to get support. Opportunities for housing and medical assistance are often inadequately signposted and the people who need it most are left uninformed. Streetlink connects those people with housing teams and other local authority support groups. This makes helping those who are homeless as simple as giving a location; you don’t have to approach someone if you don’t feel comfortable.

Pawel Koseda, a Polish man who emigrated to Britain ten years ago, used to be a teacher at a university in Łódź, but his life changed for the worse due to alcoholism. He died a week after escaping from hospital, having received surgery for a head injury. It is believed that he slept in the park in Kensington and was impaled on the fence after trying to climb over it and slipping. He is survived by his brother and mother. It is a travesty that Koseda was neglected by society, that he didn’t get the health and social care that he needed, but it is not uncommon. If more rough sleepers are known about and supported by services such as Streetlink the hope is that tragedies like this can be prevented.

Another way of helping is by donating to New Hope. You can donate moneyitems or time to help us support people who are homeless locally. You can also spread the word, about Streetlink and about us. We couldn’t help the people we do without your help.

Alex Charlton