A couple of weeks ago, on one of the coldest nights of the year, I was walking to the station and saw a large man in a donkey jacket allowing his Rottweiler to harass a homeless man and his small, white dog.

I intervened to stop this and got chatting to the homeless man. He wanted to talk to someone about what to do to keep him and his dog alive and not freeze to death on the street.

He was seriously considering getting on a train to London to keep warm and didn’t really care about getting fined as he ‘didn’t have any money anyway’ so he couldn’t pay it.

He also pointed out that if he was arrested then he would at least be warm and fed and his dog would be taken to the RSPCA and also kept warm and fed and he could get him when the weather warmed up.

He didn’t know anyone in London, it was just the longest trip he could think of that he could maybe get away with.

I bought him coffee, soup and sandwiches and, of course, dog treats.

On the way home on the train (with my ticket safely bought!) I thought about two things: attitudes to the homeless and what made anyone think they had the right to harass someone who had nothing more than his clothes and his beloved dog.

What sort of person could possibly think that this was ok? Have some York residents hardened their hearts in York to the extent that we simply don’t care about people who are poorer, weaker or simply different to us? And more than simply not caring that we can abuse them? I really hope not, and that this was just one ‘bad apple’ with an over-evolved sense of entitlement.

I thought that if I hadn’t intervened then someone else, if it was safe for them to do so, was bound to have helped. I was just in the right place, right time.

To paraphrase Richard Curtis, all around I see people caring.

Our wonderful volunteers at Citizens Advice York give their free time willingly to help others, our foodbanks are kept stocked by generous donations and York is renowned for its fantastic volunteer organisations.

I also thought about how people came to be living on the streets.

The man with the dog was articulate and charming, he’d just not been able to make ends meet and hadn’t been able to see a way out of the large amount of debt he was in other than ‘going off grid’ ,as he put it. I explained that we could probably help him.

This got me thinking about how close people are to the edge of disaster at the moment.

Our numbers of people wanting advice on homelessness and threatened homelessness are rising at an alarming level; the cost-of-living rises along with York’s expensive housing is brewing a perfect storm.

Help can be got, but early intervention is the key.

If you have any worries about your housing security, for financial or any other reason, please come and talk to us as soon as you have concerns.

Not only will you feel better for sharing your worries and taking action, but we will be able to help you with a strategy to resolve the situation to the outcome which you want.

We don’t judge or preach, we just explore your options with you so that you can make the right choices for you.

How York Citizens Advice can help

In the end the homeless man I chatted to didn’t go to London.

I saw him a few nights later with food and two survival blankets and had another chat. He’d decided that York wasn’t so bad! I invited him to come and see us at Citizens Advice York so that we can help. I haven’t seen him yet, I really hope he takes me up on my offer.

York has never needed us at Citizens Advice more.

Year on year, we have seen an increase of nearly 1,500 clients and who have brought to us 4000 more problems that they need help with.

We could not do this without your ongoing support. We thank you; we have served the community since 1967, we have seen economic and cultural shocks from wars to pandemics and have kept going to ensure no one in York is without help, support and understanding when they need it most.

But we are a small independent charity. Whilst City of York Council remain consistent and generous funders, we still have to raise £30,000 to £40,000 each and every year (and sometimes more!) to cover the full cost of this important service.

We could not operate without the generosity of donations to fill this gap. We are incredibly grateful for support, especially when everyone is feeling the effects of this current cost of living crisis. We know that times are hard, but if you are able to help please donate so we can keep on helping others. You can make a one off donation or become a “Friend of Citizens Advice York” and make a monthly subscription.

To make a donation visit citizensadviceyork.org.uk/donate/

Or, for details of how to become a Friend of Citizens Advice York, email admin.team@cayork.org or call 01904 623648.

Fiona McCulloch is chief officer of Citizens Advice York