Street Link is a government-funded service which allows people to alert local authorities in England and Wales about rough sleepers in need of support in their area.
The service will contact professionals who will try to find them and help them access things like shelter and food.
“Offer them food and if they don’t take it they don’t need it,” says former rough sleeper Rik James
“If they ask for money it’s for one of two things – drugs or alcohol,” says Mr James, who runs Birmingham Homeless Outreach.
“Just come out with food and hot drinks,” he adds. “Give them five minutes of your time, talk to them.
“A lot of people doing a little is better than a few people doing a lot”, is the motto of former armed serviceman Ian Northcott.
When Mr Northcott was a soldier he often spent days in the field, tired, cold and wet. The Army insisted he put on a pair of clean, dry socks each day.
Mr Northcott says he did not realise the importance at first, but the simple pleasure of a warm pair of socks made a great deal of difference.
Other gift ideas which could make a difference include hand warmers, gloves, hats and books.
You could drop by some dog food for homeless people with canine companions
A four-legged friend can be some rough sleepers’ only companion – and both owner and pet may be grateful of a kind gesture.
You could also put rough sleepers in touch with the charity’s Hope Project, which provides free and subsidised veterinary treatment to dogs whose owners are homeless or in housing crisis.
When rough sleepers line the streets, their plight is painfully visible. But Roger Harding, campaign director at homeless charity Shelter, says there are many, many more people whose struggles are hidden.
“This Christmas, 120,000 children in Britain will be homeless,” says Mr Harding. “Hidden away in hostels; sharing kitchens and bathrooms with strangers. Sharing a bedroom with the rest of their family.”
He says people could encourage those at risk of losing their homes to call their helpline, which is open 365 days a year for advice and support.