How we can help tackle homelessness on our railway in the South

Sharon Willis, director of communications, Southern region

Homelessness is an issue that affects us deeply on the railway and in particular those of us who work at our stations.

As places of safety, warmth, light and people, our buildings naturally attract far more visitors than simply passengers and our teams are used to working with the most vulnerable in the community.

For that reason, this year’s World Homeless Day on Saturday 10 October meant a lot to us and our colleagues. The day aimed to draw attention to the needs of people experiencing homelessness and gave opportunities for the community to get involved in responding to it.

Nationally, Network Rail’s charity theme is Routes Out of Homelessness (ROOH) – a five-year partnership with five national charities: Railway Children, End Youth Homelessness, Shelter, Crisis and The Big Issue Foundation.

What we’ve been doing to help

Many of you will have seen the murals being created by those charities across the country and ours has been painted by our regular artist Lionel Stanhope in the underpass at Charing Cross, to celebrate the work of Crisis.

And we’ve been helping the homeless in two of our London stations on Southern region for some time now in other ways. London Bridge and Charing Cross have been working with the TAP London charity for around a year, using card readers to raise money for homeless charities. Passengers can tap to donate £3 to the London Homeless Collective, made up of 29 charities, who help change the lives of homeless people across London. Across the 100 TAP London donation points, more than 55,000 people have tapped, raising a whopping £166,323 so far.

Lionel Stanhope, artist, painting a mural in the underpass at Charing Cross station
Lionel Stanhope mural in the underpass at Charing Cross station

Staff at all our stations now use an app called IRIS to record homelessness incidents at Southern region-managed stations. The app gives us greater insight into the number of homeless people at stations and it also prompts colleagues to refer homeless people to StreetLink, a charity dedicated to helping those living on the street. StreetLink uses the information to assess whether the local outreach team should be sent, to offer support to the individual.

Since July, the app has been used 1,332 times and we are learning more about homelessness around our stations all the time.

As well as using our TAP London panels, there’s something else our passengers can do to help.

Our Network Rail Southern region charity panel is encouraging you to donate the cost of your morning coffee to support World Homeless Day. Donations will be divided equally between the five ROOH charities.

Our job on the railway seems simple on the face of it – just run trains on time – but we face the same societal challenges as everywhere else. Simply ignoring problems such as homelessness won’t make them go away.

We know there is always more we can do, but we won’t give up trying to help the people who find their way to our stations, in need of a place to stay.

Find out more