As we prepare to celebrate the festive season with our family and friends, we must consider those much less fortunate, for whom Christmas isn’t a time of happiness and cheer. In her latest column, journalist and commentator Elisa Colton reflects on the plight of homelessness in the UK, and the small things we can all do to help.
Christmas should be a time for family, for warmth and comfort and love, but for so many people this is a challenging time of year. Homelessness is a growing problem, with the number of people sleeping rough on the streets increasing. Research from the charity Shelter suggests that more than a quarter of a million are homeless in England. The charity’s chief executive Campbell Robb says: “Hundreds of thousands of people will face the trauma of waking up homeless this Christmas.” The government’s own statistics support this. On any one night 3,569 people are sleeping rough in England according to the latest statistics from the Department of Communities and Local Government.
One of the most poignant adverts on the tube at the moment is for Centrepoint, a charity which helps young people who find themselves homeless. The charity says that 25,000 young people are facing homelessness this Christmas. Centrepoint is currently running a ‘Safe Christmas’ appeal. For a donation of £17 you can make sure that a young person has a bed to sleep in and a hot meal. Prince William is the patron of Centrepoint and spoke at the launch of their winter appeal in November. “Ending youth homelessness is not just about putting a roof over someone’s head. It’s about teaching a young person to read and write. It’s about helping them to live with the consequences of abuse and neglect. It’s about stopping people becoming homeless in the first place.”
So what’s being done to end homelessness?
In the Autumn Statement this November the Chancellor announced a further £10 million of funding over two years to the Rough Sleeping Fund. Jon Sparkes, the Chief Executive of the charity Crisis, welcomed the additional funding but said more needed to be done to tackle the causes of homelessness at a legislative level.
” The Homelessness Reduction Bill, currently making its way through parliament, is so urgently needed. If passed, this crucial bill will help prevent people from all backgrounds from becoming homeless, instead of being forced to live on the streets.” The Homelessness Reduction Bill has cross-party support, although MPs say the Government needs to provide the resources to councils to make sure it would work as planned.
How can we help?
In such uncertain economic times it’s all too easy to see how a redundancy, or an unexpected bill can push someone into a spiral of debt that can lead to them defaulting on their rent or mortgage and ending up with nowhere to go, and without many of the things we take for granted. The problem is that we often don’t have the spare cash ourselves to donate regularly to all the very good charities that need our help.
However, even small gestures at this time of year can make all the difference to a homeless person this year and one thing we can give is our time. Crisis have a hugely successful volunteer programme that’s very easy to get involved with. They run Christmas centres in Birmingham, Coventry, Edinburgh, London and Newcastle where those homeless or living in hostels can go to for a hot Christmas lunch and some fantastic Christmas cheer. They need 10,000 volunteers, and look for people with all sorts of skills, from activities organisers to dentists to physiotherapists to chefs. And if you aren’t free to volunteer over Christmas but feel like getting festive while also supporting a good cause Crisis are holding a carol service in the gorgeous Southwark Cathedral from 6:30pm on Saturday 10th December. If you can’t give of your time, then donating just £22.32 to Crisis will pay for a place at one of their centres, for someone who has no where else to go this Christmas. That amount ensures they will have a hot meal, a shower, a change of clothes, personal support and just some much needed human contact.
There are so many small things we can do to help. M&S have been working with the charity Shelter since 2005. Buying from their range of festive food (it’s got red packaging around it) means 5% of your purchase goes to Shelter. So far they’ve raised over £7.7 million. It’s something I didn’t even realise I was supporting until I popped in to the M&S near my office to pick up some snacks for lunch.
And if you’re really, really struggling to find a perfect gift for that special someone this Christmas how does A luxury night to remember, for two people, at The Goring Hotel strike you? A three-course dinner in Michelin-starred Dining Room, a bottle of carefully selected wine, mineral water, coffee and petit fours, followed by a one night stay in the Belgravia Suite – plus full English breakfast the next morning. The London based homeless charity St Mungo‘s is running an online auction to raise money to get people off the streets and into safe accommodation. The donated auction lots are absolutely stellar. A 3 day luxury yacht charter in Palma, Mallorca is one. A week in a French chateau is another. It closes on the 15th December. Oh, and that night in the Goring? It’s on for £50 at the moment. Get bidding!
We can’t all be in the position to help, but if nothing else, we must appreciate the situation others might find themselves in, and feel truly grateful for all that we have.