The Christmas crisis of homelessness

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Christmas is coming thick and fast along with darker days and colder nights. Some places have already decked the halls, but there are members of the population who aren’t fortunate enough to be in the warm indoors with chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Homelessness and rough sleeping are on the rise in the UK, here Stela Gineva explores why Christmas is definitely a time for giving.

As yet another rendition of “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas” echoes in busy stores across the country, people are scrambling to get the ultimate gift for their loved ones.

For some, this involves shoving their way into a mediocre retailer on Black Friday, just to join hordes of equally determined shoppers all hoping to hit the motherlode of deals. For others, it’s ignoring insignificant little details like traffic lights or other people as they scroll through Amazon’s Cyber Monday offers on their way to lectures.

On the fringes of this cacophonous medley exists a subset of the population conveniently forgotten by society for the most part.

An estimated 4,751 rough sleepers were recorded in the autumn of 2017 across the UK. This is an increase of 15% from 2016 and 169% from 2010.

Rough sleeping can have tragic consequences. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) started recording homeless deaths in October 2017. The figure in November 2018 stands at 484 people and counting across the UK.

This number is only an estimate, as in the UK local governments are not required to keep records of homeless deaths. The TBIJ initiative is reliant on reporting, so invariably not all cases will be recorded.

As the weather grows colder, and people prepare for festivities, charities have begun initiatives to encourage the more privileged members of society to support those who live on the streets.

Sheffield has a number of worthy causes which focus on the homeless around Christmas for anyone who wishes to contribute.

Staffed almost exclusively by volunteers, HARC (Homeless and Rootless at Christmas) has been around since 1989. It was initially established to cater to vulnerable men and women during the Christmas period, when most other services were closed.

This year, the project will run from December 24th through December 31st (between 9am and 7pm), and then again on January 1st until noon.

It is a day time shelter, providing free meals, clothes, entertainment, and a sense of community during the holiday season. HARC’s guests are often isolated from society and suffer from loneliness, an emotion which is amplified during the Christmas season when families and friends usually come together.

HARC accepts monetary donations, as well as ‘practical goods’ such as warm clothes and toiletries. It’s also possible to volunteer; tasks may include assisting with activities, serving drinks and meals, or working in the clothing store.

The Cathedral Archer Project (CAP) is another well-established Sheffield charity focused on the homeless. In the 1980s, Sheffield Cathedral became the go to place for those who found themselves vulnerable or homeless during a period of economic decline.

Today, the project focuses on providing individual services to people who seek help. The aim is to see homeless people off the streets and leading fulfilling lives. Some of their many services include access to hot food, showers, and laundry, as well as helping people learn new skills. There is also an in-house nurse and dental clinic, as well as support for those who wish to make use of drug and alcohol treatment services.

CAP have launched their Christmas fund-raising campaign entitled Silent Night, Lonely Night 2018. At the time of writing this, they’ve raised 10% of their £15,000 goal. The campaign closes on December 31st, 2018.

If you are looking for other ways to support people on the streets, helpushelp offers great advice on the do’s and don’ts.

For instance, giving people on the street money may not be the best idea. Over 95% of people begging in Sheffield between October 2016 and November 2017 said they were looking for money to support a drug or alcohol addiction. Helpushelp advises that it’s better to support a local charity or buy the Big Issue North, which has vendors from vulnerable backgrounds.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that homelessness does not begin and end with Christmas. It is a tragic reality that many live with year round and there are numerous ways to support people beyond the festive season.

Words by Stela Gineva

Edited by Alice Lorenzato-Lloyd

Hope and Vicky are your lifestyle editors.

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