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How to help the homeless at Christmas, from donating warm clothes to volunteering at a shelter

'No one should have to wake up without a home on Christmas Day, or any day'

Sabrina Barr
Thursday 12 December 2019 10:40
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While many people may be revelling in the festivities in the lead up to Christmas, those who are sleeping rough on the streets don’t have the same luxury.

Providing homeless people with care and support is an important course of action throughout the year, not just during the festive period.

However, with Christmas widely regarded as the season of giving and spending time with loved ones, lending a helping hand to someone in need around this time of year can have an especially huge impact.

“No one should have to wake up without a home on Christmas Day, or any day,” said Polly Neate, chief executive of charity Shelter.

Figures released by homeless charity Crisis from a YouGov poll in December 2018 revealed that 61 per cent of the British population feel angry, upset or frustrated at the state of homelessness across the nation, but don't feel as though they can do anything to help.

Furthermore, seven in 10 people out of the 2,000 polled said that they don't know what they should do when they see someone who's homeless.

There are many ways for you to do your bit to help the homeless at Christmas, from donating money and clothes to taking part in an exciting fundraising event.

Here are seven ways that you can make a positive difference for someone living without a roof over their head:

1. Donate

Several charities have different stances on whether or not you should give homeless people money directly.

In January 2018, a spokesperson for the The Salvation Army told The Independent that giving money to homeless people who are on the streets can trap them in an "endless cycle of homelessness and rough sleeping".

On the other hand, founder of Streets Kitchen Jon Glackin, who experienced homelessness himself, believes that giving money to rough sleepers can be beneficial.

“I would say if you can afford to give money to a homeless person on the street, do it," he said.

"We’re told all these scare stories, but if I gave a pound to a charity, how much of that money actually goes to that person?"

You could also donate by providing homeless people with food, warm beverages and thermal clothes, all of which will be especially advantageous during the cold, winter months.

With the New Year just around the corner, now is the perfect time to go through your wardrobe and clear out anything that you no longer want.

Rather than sell your unwanted clothes on eBay, you can instead put them to better use by donating them to those who need them most.

Shelter has stores where you can donate clothes and other goods, while The Salvation Army has clothing banks where you can drop your unwanted possessions off.

Furthermore, you could get creative with your donations by putting together a bundle or basket of sorts.

On 23 December, the London Basket Brigade delivers hampers to families who are struggling to feed themselves. If you'd like to get involved in the initiative, click here.

2. Contact local services

If you're concerned about someone who you've seen sleeping on the streets of England or Wales, then you can make the local authorities or outreach services aware of their whereabouts by using the Streetlink app or visiting the website.

When inputting information on the app or website, you'll be asked to provide the specific location of the individual, the time at which you saw them at that location and details about their appearance.

If you believe that someone is in need of urgent medical attention or you think that they may be under the age of 18, then Streetlink advises contacting 999 for further assistance.

3. Help the homeless obtain basic winter necessities

While you may currently be focused on doing all of your Christmas shopping for your family, it is also important to think about those who are lacking basic items that can provide them with warmth in the cold weather, such socks, hats and blankets.

In 2018, a company called Unhoused.org launched what they describe as the "UK's first online shop for homeless supplies".

For every item of winter clothing that is bought from the website, the company donates another to someone who does not have a home.

"This includes basic clothing supplies as small as a pair of socks or gloves, but also services such as a haircut and Starbucks coffee delivery," a spokesperson for the firm told The Independent.

The idea for the online shop came when co-founders Varun Bhanot and Anisha Seth regularly came across homeless people in the city while commuting to their tech and finance jobs, and decided to "come up with an innovative solution" to use their skills to address the societal issue.

"The response has been fantastic and we have donated around 500,000 items to date to partnered homeless centres," the spokesperson adds.

Unhoused.org's newest product is a "self-cleaning hoodie", which uses nanotechnology to reduce the need for laundry.

To check out all the products available to purchase from the Unhoused.org online shop, click here.

4. Take part in a fundraising event

If you'd like to join a real force for change, then take part in a fundraising event in order to support the homeless at Christmas.

On 3 December, Shelter hosted Sleep Walk London, a 10km walk that took place at night in central London.

Last year's inaugural Sleep Walk for Shelter involved individuals including Spice Girl Mel C taking part.

Mel C, Julie Adenuga and Mo Gilligan will be taking part in the first Sleep Walk for Shelter

This year, footballer Fara Williams and cricketer Monty Panesar participated.

“It’s amazing to see so many people come together today and Sleep Walk for Shelter," said Williams.

“Homelessness and bad housing affects hundreds of thousands of people in the UK so it’s more important than ever that we support those who are at risk of losing their homes. With our help, they can make a difference to people who need it this Christmas.”

Polly Neate, CEO of Shelter, stated: “The housing emergency is spiralling out of control, and we know hundreds of thousands of children will be spending Christmas in grim temporary accommodation, cramped into one room with their whole family and sharing bathrooms with strangers.”

The Shelter websites provides details of upcoming fundraising events you can take part in. To find out more, click here.

5. Stop for a chat

Taking a moment out of your day to introduce yourself to a homeless person and stop for a friendly chat can make an immeasurable difference, what with the sheer amount of people who ignore them on a daily basis.

"Homelessness puts an enormous strain on mental health with long hours of loneliness, isolation and sleep deprivation," Liam Geraghty explained for The Big Issue.

"The first way to help is [a] simple one - speak up! A warm greeting, some simple small talk or even just asking a personal question can make all the difference."

6. Give food to their pet

For some homeless people, having a pet to keep them company can provide them with the love and support that they've been sorely missing.

The survival of their pet is often just as important to them as their own, which is why giving them food with which they can feed their pet is a very kind and thoughtful deed.

In 2013, Leslie Irvine released a book called My Dog Always Eats First, in which she conducted interviews with several homeless people about the connection that they have with their canine friend.

7. Volunteer

Volunteering with organisations that support the homeless at Christmas is an effective and fulfilling way to have a positive impact on the lives of many.

Numerous charities such as Crisis, Shelter, Shelter From The Storm and Whitechapel Mission provide details on their websites on how you can take part in the festive, voluntary initiatives.

Crisis' Christmas centres, which are managed by staff and 11,000 volunteers, will be running in Birmingham, Coventry, Edinburgh, London, Oxford, Newcastle and South Wales this festive season.

Various voluntary roles at Crisis require different minimum number of shifts. For example, a person volunteering as a performer at a Christmas centre does not need a minimum shift requirement, while someone volunteering as an entertainment organiser would need to do at least three.

Shelter From The Storm, a free homeless shelter in Islington, is in constant need of volunteers to do shifts in the morning, evening and overnight.

Furthermore, the Whitechapel Mission has a number of voluntary positions available over Christmas, including people willing to prepare breakfast in the kitchen and others who can sort through all the clothing and gifts that the shelter receives.

If you'd like to find your nearest local homeless shelter and enquire about volunteering there, you can do so by entering your postcode on the Homeless Link website.

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