Christmas is just around the corner – in fact, it’s so close that I can hear the bathroom scales breaking down as we speak. Shopping malls are pure unadulterated chaos – cheap gimmicks and elaborate luxury items are everywhere. We’re all getting ready to fill up on food and booze at our Christmas parties and embarrass ourselves big time. December is the official countdown to the day where we laugh and sing and open up the presents that have plunged everyone into their overdraft.
Of course it’s merry and exciting; I absolutely love Christmas. But I think there’s more to the extravagant food items, the 40 different versions of the same eyeshadow palette and the one-way ticket to a maxed out credit card. I can’t deny I’m above all of this – I am a sucker for novelty items, and new, shiny things. But I am trying to change.
It’s an amazing feeling to buy new things and surprise the ones you love, but I implore you to invest at least some of your time and money in something else this Christmas period – the homeless. It’s so important.
Don’t back out now – I’m not here to make you feel bad. But we all have to listen and get educated.
Here’s the facts on homelessness:
1. Official government data shows that on any given night in autumn last year (2017), 4,751 people were recorded sleeping on the streets, a figure that has more than doubled since 2010. (Independent)
2. The number of rough sleepers increased by 15 per cent in just one year, up 617 since autumn 2016. (Independent)
3. In 2017, London represented nearly a quarter (24 per cent) of all rough sleepers in England, at 1,140 on any given night – up from 23 per cent the previous year. (Independent)
4. A fifth of those sleeping rough last year (2017) were non-UK nationals, while 14 per cent were women and 8 per cent were under 25 years old, the figures show. (Independent)
5. On average, homeless people die at just 47 years old. (Crisis)
6. People sleeping on the street are almost 17 times more likely to have been victims of violence. (Independent)
7. More than one in three people sleeping rough have been deliberately hit or kicked or experienced some other form of violence whilst homeless. (Crisis)
8. Homeless people are over nine times more likely to take their own life than the general population. (Crisis)
9. There are different types of homelessness, such as: rough sleeping, statutory homelessness, and hidden homelessness. (Crisis)
10. You can help make a difference. (Me + countless others).
This Christmas, I want to make a difference. I want to encourage someone else to make a difference, even if it’s only small. Here’s some ways you can make a change.
1. Talk to the homeless.
I recently read James Bowen’s A Street Cat Named Bob. He wrote: “Living on the streets of London strips away your dignity, your identity – your everything, really. Worst of all, it strips away people’s opinion of you. They see you are living on the streets and treat you as a non-person. They don’t want anything to do with you. Soon you haven’t got a real friend in the world. While I was sleeping rough I managed to get a job working as a kitchen porter. But they sacked me when they found out I was homeless, even though I’d done nothing wrong at work. When you are homeless you really stand very little chance.” Try and speak to a homeless person, even if you don’t have any change to give them. It’s nice to be asked how your day is going, and if you’re okay. Smile at them – it can make a world of difference for someone to know they’re not invisible, even if you have nothing to give them.
2. Buy a Big Issue magazine
The Big Issue is an incredible enterprise, with the slogan ‘giving a hand up, not a hand out’. By buying a magazine from a licensed vendor, you get to reduce the feeling of social isolation felt by the homeless, and you help people to work and earn money. ‘Vendors buy The Big Issue magazine for £1.25 and sell it for £2.50, meaning each seller is a micro-entrepreneur who is working, not begging. Therefore it is vitally important that buyers take their copy of the magazine when they pay for it.’ This has been vital in giving people integrity, building their employability skills and providing them with vital opportunities. Not to mention, it’s packed full of great articles and all round good content. It’s also really lovely to just have a genuine conversation with someone.
Find a charity near you and volunteer for them – if it’s reception work, helping out at a soup kitchen or speaking with the homeless, it’s time well spent. Services like this rely entirely on volunteered support, so any time you can contribute counts. Typing in ‘volunteer for the homeless’ on Google brings up a whole hoard of results. Even if it’s an hour or two one night, it’s something.
This year, I’ve donated everything I can to a Christmas Shoebox Appeal in work. It’s so easy to find bargain food and sanitary items in places like Farmfoods, Iceland, Aldi and Lidl. One of my co-workers forwarded the office a list of items which were needed, and I managed to collect a good amount just adding bits and bobs onto my shop. If you can afford it, please give it a go. Just google ‘Christmas Shoebox Appeal’ or type it in Facebook – there should be some in your area. Even a little contribution goes a long way.
Don’t bow your head in shame, sadness or embarrassment – use your resources and do whatever you can to spread a little Christmas cheer, now and all throughout January. People need it.
Ways to donate:
Shelter: Give Once / Give Monthly
The Big Issue Foundation: Give Once / Give Regularly
Please research charities before donating your money.