A RECENT article by a colleague about a rough sleeper who stole balaclavas and gloves to keep warm – as well as the reaction the story got from readers – raises plenty of interesting questions.

Michael Smith, 30, admitted stealing the items in court and said they were to help keep the cold at bay while he slept in the doorway of Debenhams.

Writing on Facebook, Sally Jarvis compared the idea of stealing to keep warm to a “scene from a Charles Dickens novel” while Helen Elizabeth described how “every doorway was taken by homeless street sleepers” when she went to the Christmas lights switch-on.

The idea of so many rough sleepers out on the streets in this weather while many others happily celebrate across the street is a saddening reflection of society today, and in Dickens’ day, showing in some ways just how little we’ve progressed.

Some commenters also suggested the council shouldn’t be giving the go-ahead to the likes of a new Lidl but instead should be building another shelter.

While Andy Summers asked would anyone who’s upset by Smith’s story “put him up” for a night?

These two points are where the homelessness issue becomes complicated. Often, the solution is not just as simple as giving someone on the streets a place to stay and it is something that our major political parties seem to forget often.

In the case of Smith, he was a heroin addict and had spiralled out of control before he was hospitalised, got a methadone prescription and began engaging with support from Maggs Day Centre and St Paul’s Hostel, where he was rehomed. Smith was not necessarily in a place where he could cope with being housed when he was at his worst while completely gripped by the drug. And he may relapse again in future and the cycle will start again.

While more shelters would be ideal, more funding actually needs to be made available to hit the root causes of being on the street.

To many, it may appear to be a choice. “Smith chose to go on the streets and to take heroin.”

But that kind of mindset is never helpful and many people need to take a step back and think.

St Paul’s Jonathan Sutton said: “The solution isn’t straight forward or quick but [we] must resolve the underlying emotional needs through connection.”