Helping the homeless at Christmas and beyond
Whilst all the festive cheer continues, it’s easy to forget that there are many people who are less fortunate and find Christmas one of the most difficult times of year.
Emily Hamilton, from homelessness charity The Connection at St Martins, talks about how they support people to get off the streets for good. Find out how you can help the homeless at Christmas and beyond.
For most of us Christmas is a time to spend with family and friends. But many of our homeless clients don’t have the opportunity to get together with their loved ones. At The Connection we stay open throughout Christmas and every year our amazing catering manager whips up the ultimate Christmas dinner for over 200 guests – puts my stressing over cooking for 10 to shame. The centre comes alive and everyone sits down to enjoy their home cooked lunch together. Afterwards there are showings of all our favourite Christmas films, maybe a few Christmas songs and Father Christmas (well actually our day centre manager Angela in her Santa suit) even pops along to hand out some presents.
Christmas can be a particularly difficult time for our homeless clients. Emotionally, people begin to reflect on their year, perhaps their relationships with their families and loved ones that they haven’t seen for a while. And physically of course it’s winter. It’s cold. If you’re sleeping rough this really can be life threatening. And just like us, winter comes with its bouts of winter colds and flu. All these things put together mean people can particularly struggle through the festive period and into the New Year.
Our doors are open all year round to help those who find themselves on the streets of Westminster. You never know what kind of day you’re going to have when you walk through our big red door just off Trafalgar Square. Seeing up to 200 people every day, there’s never a dull moment. But as the busiest homelessness day centre in the UK, we also get to see more people than anywhere move away from and stay off the streets- which is a great feeling.
We do this by offering comprehensive support to our clients, helping them to address the often complex and long-standing issues that have led to their situations. The support we offer ranges from basic needs with our showers, laundry services and cafe, which serves home-cooked and nutritious meals each day.to our Education, Training and Employment department, ‘Workspace’, where trained careers advisors offer CV and job search support. We also provide practical help such as smart clothing for interviews or help with travel to and from new jobs.
The support we offer doesn’t end each day when our Day Centre shuts its doors. Each night we re-open for around 40 referred ( up to 75 when it’s really cold) vulnerable rough sleepers, who are able to have a safe night’s sleep in our emergency Night Centre. While our Outreach Team, the largest in the UK, goes out onto the streets each night to support rough sleepers and help people new to the street into schemes such as No Second Night Out.
Homelessness has more than doubled in the past five years, and this means that homelessness services, like us, all over the country are seeing more and more people, not just at Christmas but all year round. If you would like to help, there are a few things you could do:
- Make a donation to your local charity. Just £5 could pay for one of our clients to have their Christmas dinner in the warmth of our centre on Christmas Day.
- Volunteer your time at your local homeless shelter or at Crisis at Christmas over the festive period. Our volunteering opportunities are listed on our website
- Contact your local homelessness charity to see if they are in need of any donations and then collect and deliver these to them. They could need toiletries, new and clean bedding or warm clothing but do contact them first to ensure your donations will be useful
- Write to your local MP to rally support around homelessness issues
And finally if you are worried about a rough sleeper at any time:
- Contact Streetlink
- Or if you believe they are in immediate crisis call Emergency Services on 999
Merry Christmas from The Connection!