During the cold winter of January 2019, a clothes rail was left outside Holy Redeemer church in Clerkenwell, Central London. It was filled with coats, scarves and hats and could be used by people sleeping rough in the area or anybody who required warm clothing. The rail was then replenished each day by volunteers.
The idea was simple: If you are cold, take an item of clothing. If you can help, leave one.
Journalist Stefan Simanowitz, who launched the initiative, was blown away by the response. Clothes rails popped up in 30 towns and cities all over the UK. The idea even took off internationally, with copycat versions in parts of Europe, the US and Canada.
Rails were put out again in January 2020 and now organisers have relaunched the scheme for a third winter. They hope Take One Leave One can replicate its previous successes, particularly in a world that has been devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“It’s helping people now who are facing hardship because of Covid,” Simanowitz told the Big Issue.
“You don’t have to be homeless or a rough sleeper, you just have to be in need. If you feel you need a coat or some support then it’s there. It’s not policed, it just looks after itself, it replenishes itself.”
Simanowitz said the scheme was particularly timely. The relaunch took place in London’s Exmouth Market on Tuesday December 15, the day after it was revealed the number of people who died while experiencing homelessness hit a record high in 2019.
Charity Crisis has said 200,000 households will be without a permanent home during the festive period, with some forced to sleep on the streets.
Please people be kind and don't steal or damage. I love this campaign. https://t.co/IvKN7odIDw
— Boy George (the truth is in your breath) (@BoyGeorge) December 15, 2020
“With freezing temperatures hitting Britain, the Take One Leave One initiative offers a simple way to help rough sleepers and those hit by the lockdown,” Take One Leave One’s organisers said in a press release announcing the relaunch.
“It is hoped that this idea, which can be replicated in any town and on any street, will spread. The only requirements are a clothes rail, a banner and the goodwill of local people.”
The launch was accompanied by music performances and speeches. TV stars Gary Lineker, Rob Delaney and Emily Maitlis showed support on Twitter alongside legendary musician Boy George.
But ultimately, Simanowitz described the clothes rails as a “sticking plaster” solution and said government action was needed to address the problem of homelessness.
“It’s not as if homelessness is something that can’t be solved, because ending homelessness isn’t some utopian dream,” he added.
“All it requires is the will of the Government to act. You can see in Finland, they’ve got a housing-first policy which has virtually eradicated homelessness.
“But this is also showing that you don’t need to wait for the Government, you don’t need to be a celebrity like Marcus Rashford to have a platform to make a difference.
“Right now, anyone can go and make a sign to put outside the house with some more clothes for a homeless person. Take One Leave One is showing that anybody can make a difference.”
Image credit: Veronika Ward