Christmas is coming, and the goose is getting fat, (if you are still a meat-eater). Time of joy and goodwill to all men and for everyone to lose their heads for that one day, 25th December.

Christmas has always brought anxiety and a sense of dread. I feel that Christmas was not made for people like myself. The media and society have created Christmas to be about family, belonging, being with those you love, lots of presents and laughter. I know, I know, for a lot of families, this is not the case.

However, it doesn’t stop folk from putting on the pretence that all is amazing and having a great Christmas with the family is the highlight of the year. If you say anything that does not sound like glad tidings, in the presence of those who just love Christmas, then you are classed as being the Christmas Grinch.

I am not a Christmas Grinch. I would love nothing more than to get involved with the Christmas spirit. The personal circumstance of the loss of both my parents many years ago and very little family to call my own means there is not much to share the Christmas joy with.

After several years of waking up on my own on Christmas day, making the drive to sit around other families Christmas tables, I decided Christmas in 2009 this format was not sustainable for my sanity.

In 2010, I ventured into the world of putting my Christmas time to better use. Rather than feeling miserable and out of synch with the rest of the world celebrating the festive season, I signed myself up to go and volunteer in Cambodia. Travelling and volunteering, what a perfect combination, with hot weather in a country that doesn’t really do Christmas. Bonus!

I spent 3 weeks in Cambodia as part of the Voluntary Service Overseas and had an amazing time, house building and teaching 5-year olds how to brush their teeth and speak English (well, nursery rhymes at least).

Cambodia volunteering 2010 Onwards and up
Cambodia volunteering Onwards an Up

For sure, the best Christmas I had had since my mum passed away in 2006. Though I didn’t always make it compulsory, I did for the next four years spend Christmas abroad, either with friends or on my own, unintentionally in countries, where Christmas was not the crazy mayhem that we have here.

Then in 2014, I was grounded back in the UK for the first time since 2009. Some big changes were ahead of me, which meant I couldn’t go on my usual Christmas adventure. Rather than going back to old ways of other people’s family Christmas, I thought I would find a charity to volunteer with again.

I signed up to Crisis at Christmas as a general volunteer for three shifts at the East London Day Centre. Before Crisis, I had not had much experience of homeless people. Whilst I say this, many of us are not that far of from being in similar circumstances, as many of the guests at Crisis. What is it that say? We are only one paycheck away from being homeless.

Me being my proactive self, I got stuck and loved it. Four years on and Crisis is still an intricate part of my Christmas. It’s a bit like a family, but without the enforced contact with people you don’t get on with and without the family drunken bust-ups. I love how this group of people come together every year at this time, from different backgrounds to help others and have fun in the process. Then on December 29th when the centres close, we all disperse back to the different part of the country for another 12 months.

Crisis for Christmas Onwards and up
Crisis for Christmas, East London Morning Shift Team, 2017

The Stats on Homelessness 2018

Eradicate Homeless Onwards and Up

Enough about me. Let’s review the current state of homelessness in the UK and why an organisation such as Crisis are still so important. It is ridiculous that in the 6th richest country in the world we have the levels of homelessness that really should not exist.

All the below data has generously supplied by the Crisis Campaigns Team.

Currently, there are 160,000 households experiencing the very worst forms of homelessness, or what Crisis have termed core homelessness, across Great Britain. This includes people sleeping rough, living in unsuitable temporary accommodation, hostels, tents, in their cars and on public transport.

Current numbers are broken down by type of homelessness:

  • Rough sleepers: 9,100
  • People living in cars, tents and public transport: 8,900
  • People squatting in unlicensed premises: 12,100
  • People living in hostels/ refuges and winter night shelters: 42,200
  • Unsuitable Temporary Accommodation: 19,300
  • Sofa surfers: 68,300

If we carry on as we are, that the numbers are due to continue rising, Heriot-Watt experts found we can expect the numbers of people experiencing the worst forms of homelessness to nearly double over the next 23 years.

  • 2016: 158,400
  • 2021: 161,800
  • 2026: 186,600
  • 2031: 214,100
  • 2036: 249,300
  • 2041: 314,800

Homelessness in London 2018

In London the latest rough sleeping figures showed that 3,103 people were found sleeping rough in London between July and September 2018 – the first time levels have risen to over 3,000 in a single quarter. That represents an increase in rough sleepers of 20% in the previous quarter and an increase of 17% in the same period last year. Over the same period, outreach teams recorded 1,382 people sleeping rough for the first time, a rise of 28% on the previous period and 20% on the same period last year.


What Are The Main Causes of Homelessness?

Personal Causes

A number of different personal and social factors can contribute towards people becoming homeless. These may include one or more of the following:

  • individual factors – including lack of qualifications, lack of social support, debts – especially mortgage or rent arrears, poor physical and mental health, relationship breakdown, and getting involved in crime at an early age
  • family background – including family breakdown and disputes, sexual and physical abuse in childhood or adolescence, having parents with drug or alcohol problems, and previous experience of family homelessness
  • an institutional background – including having been in care, the armed forces, or in prison.

Structural Causes

Structural causes of homelessness are social and economic in nature and are often outside the control of the individual or family concerned. These may include:

  • unemployment
  • poverty
  • a lack of affordable housing
  • housing policies
  • the structure and administration of housing benefit
  • wider policy developments, such as the closure of long-stay psychiatric hospitals.

These problems require long-term policy solutions such as changes in the housing benefit system, the building of more affordable homes, and ensuring that a wider cross-section of society benefits from the fruits of economic growth.


What is Crisis?

Crisis is now celebrating its 50th anniversary. A bittersweet, considering the charity, was set

Homeless Onwards and Up


up as a temporary solution to support vulnerable people. Now in 2018, is part of the fabric of British society, campaigning for those who cannot find their voice and lobbying Government to create better social policies for all.

Crisis is an all-year-round organisation, supporting people out of homelessness for good. This is done through education, training and support with housing, employment and health. Providing one to one support, advice and courses for homeless people in 12 areas across England, Scotland and Wales.

Crisis helps homeless people find and keep a rented home. They do this by working with landlords to ensure a supply of places to live and giving homeless people the tools and knowledge, they need to rent successfully.


Crisis Preventing Homelessness Strategy

Homelessness Onwards and Up

Crisis believes the best way to end homelessness is to stop it happening in the first place. If someone is at risk of losing their home, councils and all relevant organisations must do everything they can to keep them housed.

The Westminster Government already invests £1.1bn in homelessness services, but most of this is spent once a person has already reached crisis point. Prioritising investment in prevention and rapid rehousing would be a more effective way of ending someone’s homelessness, as well as delivering better value for money.


How to Get Involved? Help The Homeless

The doors have officially opened and the work to prepare this Christmas at Crisis centres around the UK began back in September. Crisis at Christmas could not happen without the help and support of the wider community. With 11,000 people volunteering and many more providing donations.

Contributions whether great or small are all welcome.

Every year when I sign up for Crisis and tell people, the response I always get is, that sounds amazing, I wish I could do that. My response is, but you can. You don’t have to give your Christmas break volunteering in one of the centres like myself. There are so many other ways that we can all do to help to make a difference. I’ve listed a few options, to help you on your way.


Volunteering

There are Crisis centres set up all across the UK which need volunteers to help with the running of them. The jobs vary from being a service provider (doctor, hairdresser, chef), to just being a general volunteer like myself who is happy to get stuck and help run the different areas in the centre.

You can do a little as one shift over the Christmas period through to as many as your heart’s content. To find your local centre

If you prefer not to volunteer at one of the centres over the Christmas period, there is always help required in one of our distribution centres around the country, coordinating supplies and services to go out to the relevant centres. Volunteering here starts from September and runs through to the new year for a breakdown.

If you are good data inputting and have a few days spare after Christmas, this is something that is always in great need. Inputting guest details on the system. Register to volunteer


Donations

Crisis is always grateful for donations to support the guests at the centres. Let’s use our common sense and think about the types of things you are donating. Let’s keep it practical, otherwise, someone like me has to spend time sorting through unusable items.

Essential Clothing Donations

Time for a clear out of your wardrobe and send our way. Any clothing businesses out there with excess stock lets not do a Burberry but put it to good use.

Clothing for men and women, tops, trousers, sensible footwear (no heels, no flip flops, no flippers!), coats, underwear rack sacs, hats gloves, socks and scarves. Anything in larger sizes is always greatly appreciated and in demand. If you are donating clothing with a designer label in them, please can you remove this from the items?

Full details of the types of donation Crisis are taking

Food and drink which gets distributed across the centres to feed the guest throughout the Christmas period. Again, let’s be sensible with the food and drink supplies. Nothing too extravagant, the guests are used to these types of food.

It is Christmas, but anything that is laced with alcohol will only go in the bin. We really appreciate the thought, but the circumstances of some of the guests, means alcohol in any form is not allowed on the premises.


Donation Drop Off

In London, there are set days for taking your donations to the distribution centre before Christmas.

The distribution centre will be accepting donations from Tuesday 4th – Saturday 8th December, and Tuesday 11th – Saturday 15th December, between 10 am and 4 pm.

Donations can be taken to or sent to the following address.


Reserve A Place At Crisis

For a donation of £28.18 pay for a guest to:

  • A warm welcome and good company
  • Three nutritious, hot meals daily, including a delicious Christmas dinner
  • A bed for the night, if needed
  • A chance to shower, freshen up and get clean clothes
  • A health check and treatment from a doctor, optician and dentist
  • Expert help with mental health and addiction problems
  • Advice on housing, employment and benefits
  • A way out of homelessness for good through Crisis’ year-round training, education and support.

Get involved and reserve a place


Amazon Wishlist

Crisis has set up a wishlist of items that would be nice to have to support the activities and work that goes on in the centres around the country.


Invitations

Something as small as making those in need aware that the Crisis centres are open over Christmas, a place they can go to for shelter food, clothing and company.

Download and print out the Crisis for Christmas brochure and give to someone you see. Distribute them to your local shops and train stations, to give out to those they are aware of in the local area, who could do with the support.


Street Link App

Download the Street Link app and report someone who you see on the streets locally on a regular basis. No need to ask for their name but provide a description of the person and the location of where they have been staying. One of the many outreach workers will follow up and assess the needs of the person to get further help and support.


Human Kindness

It doesn’t cost anything and in these circumstances, can go a long way. Buying a sandwich or providing a pair of socks (podiatry is the highest used service at Crisis through the Christmas period), can make all the difference. Helping those less fortunate than us to feel that they are human.


If you have reached this far in the post, then I thank you for taking the time to read. Whether you have gained a new understanding of homelessness, donated to Crisis or given up your time to volunteer. I hope that in some small way we can all make a difference to those in need.

It does not necessarily have to be someone that is homeless, but making time to check on those around you, be it neighbours on their own, elderly and young people. The motto of its none of my business is a poor excuse not to reach out. Sometimes reaching out beyond your own world can make a difference. Proactive responses are always appreciated, no matter what the outcome.

Make Christmas more than just about giving presents eating lots of food and just your family. Make it about human kindness and inclusion for all and not just a few.


Resource

Everybody In: How to End Homelessness in Great BritainRead the full plan, by Crisis


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