Cause4Opinion

Bah Humbug! Why helping the homeless is for life, not just for Christmas

Emily ClarkeWith a chill in the air, and frost biting at our toes, the festive season is fast approaching – and alongside it, woolly jumpers, warm mulled wine, and increased charitable giving.

This year’s UK Giving Report from the Charities Aid Foundation showed that, like other years, the winter months of November and December 2016 saw a higher-than-average number in those donating to charity (up to 41% compared to the normal 30%) – and the season was also higher than other months in ‘giving to homeless people, housing and refuge shelters in the UK’ (22%).

This is hardly surprising. With the nights closing in and our breath condensing into the icy breeze, it’s difficult not to spare a thought for those who don’t have a warm home to escape to; especially when we’re surrounded by an ambience of giving at Yuletide.

While some may be dreaming of a White Christmas, there will be many who just want a warm one, and there are many opportunities out there to help them. Crisis, for example, can provide hot, nutritious Christmas dinners, practical advice, healthcare, accommodation and learning opportunities to a homeless person, with a donation of just £26.08. The Salvation Army needs people to help cook and serve food for rough sleepers, and the Choir With No Name runs a Big Christmas Singalong, with their homeless choir singers being supported by ticket purchases. Crack + Cider – so-named because a homeless man told them what people thought he spent money on – allows the public to buy essential items for homeless people, which they will then distribute on their behalf.

It’s great that homeless charities capitalise on festive generosity – and it will save many lives. But with over 120,000 children in Britain waking up homeless every day (the highest number in a decade), it is clear that helping the homeless should not just be a Christmas activity: after all, people are homeless the rest of the year, too. In fact, the operations manager of Coastline Housing’s homelessness service recently wrote that with their crisis accommodation full all year round, the emphasis on winter homelessness simply removes visibility from the issue the rest of the year.

While helping the homeless in the cold winter months is essential, a longer-term solution must also be found to counteract the increasing number of homeless families in the UK: since 2010, homelessness has risen by 134% – and figures published this September show that a further 200,000 people are at risk of losing the roof over their heads.

With private sector rents having increased by three times as much as wages since 2010 – a figure that rises to eight times the average wage increase in London – it is clear that this issue will not be resolved unless something is done. Shelter, for example, states that only half of the 250,000 homes we need each year are built, and with a shrinking social rented sector, more and more families are being pushed into the unstable and unaffordable private rented sector. The charity wants the government to end the freeze on housing benefit, and commit to building affordable homes. It believes that the provision of more affordable housing, throughout the social housing sector, the private rented sector and the privately-owned sector, will provide a long-term solution to homelessness.

When Ebenezer Scrooge claimed in A Christmas Carol that ‘it’s enough for a man to understand his own business, and not interfere with other people’s,’ the ghost of his business partner Jacob Marley told him: ‘Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were all my business.’ And if a person’s business is really to help others, then it’s high time that a permanent and sustainable solution to homelessness be implemented. 50 years ago, Crisis, Shelter and Centrepoint captured the zeitgeist of Ken Loach’s Cathy Come Home at their foundation; the resurgence of this epidemic half a century later shows that their services are still desperately needed – and more needs to be done.

But we must also remember that helping others should not solely be a festive activity. Charities just like Shelter and Crisis need our support year-round, so donating regularly to their cause, becoming a volunteer, buying The Big Issue or taking part in the #BigSleepOut are all ways to make a more enduring impact – before the ghosts of the (Christmas) past come back to haunt us, and it’s far too late.

Share your thoughts with us, or tell us which campaigns you’ll be supporting this Christmas and beyond, by Tweeting us @OfficialCause4.

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