Home(less) alone 

As we approach ‘the most wonderful time of the year’, do we ever wonder exactly how much of the festive fun relies on us having a home?

Decorating the tree with tinsel. Receiving Christmas cards from relatives through the letterbox. A homemade Christmas dinner with family and friends around the table. Watching The Snowman or the EastEnders Christmas special on the telly. Opening presents while still wearing your pyjamas and snoozing in the armchair because you’ve stuffed your face all day.

None of the above happens when you don’t have a place to call home. So what is left of Christmas for those of us who don’t…

I have always taken these homely festive things for granted – because they’ve always been there and, for me, they’ve never been taken away. I, like many of you, am one of the lucky ones. But things could change in a flash. Homelessness can happen to anyone…

According to homelessness charity Crisis there are 236,000 people experiencing the worst forms of homelessness in Britain today. This includes forms of hidden homelessness including sofa surfing, living in hostels or refuges, sleeping in tents, cars or on public transport, squats or other unsuitable forms of accommodation. And the number also includes rough sleeping, which over 9,000 people are enduring.

Imagine that on Christmas Day – 9,000 people sleeping rough, in the cold, feeling unsafe, frightened, hungry and probably very unwell. 

There have been so many mixed messages about how we should respond to people on the streets who might ask passers-by for help. So what shouldwe do if we see someone sleeping rough or asking for help on the streets?

Crisis is asking all members of the public to be vigilant this winter. They advise that, if you see someone sleeping rough, you should contact Streetlink (in England and Wales) or the local council in Scotland, to help that person link in with the relevant homelessness services. If you’re concerned about their immediate safety, don’t be afraid to call 999 – it could save a life.

For those who feel comfortable to do this, there are other things we can do to help that person immediately. You can ask if there is anything that they need – it might be a hot drink or some food, or some spare change.

You could ask if they want a blanket or warm items of clothing. Popping into a nearby charity shop and picking up a few warm items will make a tiny difference to your bank balance, but it could make a big difference to someone’s health and comfort.

But if you are not in a position to give, simply stopping and having a conversation can make a big difference to people who may be feeling isolated and ignored.

And remember, you can donate to charities such as Crisis to support their work in providing shelter, warm meals and vital services to thousands of people who have nowhere else to turn over the holidays. Simply visit www.crisis.org.uk to find out more, and you could be helping someone have a slightly merrier Christmas this year.

 Lucy Nichol

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