Homeless Hampers, Leeds: Yorkshire homeless charity slams Suella Braverman's comments on homelessness being a 'lifestyle choice' as charity receives award
Homeless Hampers was founded in November 2015 by Tina Suryavansi, 54, and her husband Aky, 56, from Leeds.
They support between 120 and 150 people every Sunday night.
Altogether, the charity helps around 400 homeless people every week.
Mrs Suryavansi told the Yorkshire Post she was saddened by former Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s comments on homelessness being a ‘lifestyle choice’.
The Homeless Hampers trustee has now called on Leeds City Council to put strategies in place to deal with homelessness in the community.
“I don’t think this comment [that homelessness is] “a lifestyle choice” that was made by our government helps because we see people die on the streets,” she said.
“In the eight years we’ve been doing this, I can’t tell you how many people that we’ve known and become close to, we’ve seen them go.
“We as a group attend these peoples’ funerals and we’re not even family, we just get to know them.
“[Suella’s comments] really saddened us, I’ve mentioned it on our social media a couple of times, because it’s really affected me.
“I couldn’t believe that somebody would make a statement like that. If you think about it, who would choose to be homeless?”
The couple were inspired to support the homeless community in areas of West Yorkshire after their son, Akash, underwent two kidney transplants.
His mum donated one that failed in 2015, then his dad became his second donor.
Speaking of the origins of the charity’s work, Mrs Suryavansi said: “We felt lucky to be in the position we are in, we’ve never said ‘why us?’
“We’ve always looked at life like there is always somebody worse off and we just wanted to give something back to the community.
“Initially there were about four or five of us, we’d go around the city centre, we saw a need to engage with people who were just sitting on the [streets].
“We started engaging with them, providing food and hot clothes. When they are ready we will refer them to the services.”
Mrs Suryavansi said the charity helps to furnish properties the council provides which would otherwise be empty.
“We will provide all the furniture, the white goods, we’ll put food support in place just for about six weeks, just to get them used to being back into a home again”, she added.
“We’ve known people that we’ve supported back into the system come back and they’re regular volunteers with us.
“We don’t judge anyone, we are a very non-judgemental [charity] and that’s all of us who volunteer. It’s sad to say that now the problem around homelessness has grown but with that, we as a team have grown.”
Homeless Hampers has struggled with demand for accommodation and beds - but the charity’s biggest priority is mental health.
“There needs to be more accommodation available, people need support with their mental health,” Mrs Suryavansi said.
“Behind every person we see on the streets there is a tragedy, there’s trauma. Once you deal with the root, then you’ll end up with a success story.
“We do try and access emergency beds for people but there’s a huge lack of emergency beds and lack of accommodation and that’s in both Leeds and Bradford.
“We’ve even got people that are in paid employment but they’re struggling to find food or find the money for food.
“We know winter is coming, they can’t pay for heating, so duvets and bedding will make a massive difference to us.
“We deal with a lot of pre-loved goods; somebody’s rubbish might be somebody’s treasure.”
Mrs Suryavansi said that donating items is a bigger priority than donations of money.
“We’ve always said to people, you donate the items we need and we will make this work and fortunately that’s the way we run. We try to keep that overhead cost as low as we possibly can”, she added.
The charity has won the King’s Award, which was announced on Tuesday, November 14, 2023.
Mrs Suryavansi credits the quality of work volunteers have been doing over the past eight years as a catalyst for the award.
“We are privileged, we’re honoured,” she said.
“We will always remain humble because the award means a lot, it lifts the charity and hopefully with that it brings us more support to carry on doing our work.
“This year was the first year that we actually went on holiday after eight years of running Homeless Hampers; we’ve had mini breaks here and there but [this year] we actually managed to travel abroad.”
“All of us are volunteers; it’s us as volunteers that come in week in week out, some of them are there every single week without fail.”