This is what it is like to work in a homeless hostel on Christmas Day

Over the years there have been spats over who won the prize in the cracker and the obligatory argument over the TV  channel -  not unlike most family units at Christmas

Ophelia Kingshott
Friday 25 December 2015 12:13

In mid-June, when everyone is delighting in the moderate temperatures we’ve come to describe as summer, I’ll secretly be counting the days until it’s socially acceptable to hang the Christmas decorations.

I’m not going to pretend I’m the kind of person who hasn't bought and wrapped all my gifts before the Halloween confectionery has been discounted. But working in an accommodation service for people who have experienced homelessness, substance misuse and mental health issues means preparation on a grand scale has to start early.

I’ve learned over the years that festivities in a homelessness service involve precision and not only a plan B, but plan C and plan D too. The festive period presents many challenges in meeting the expectations and needs of the 27 individuals who live with us, and the staff that support them.

The preparations begin with attempting to finance the festivities through calling in the good will within our local community. Thankfully the rise of handmade kitsch à la Pinterest provides a great excuse to oven bake oranges, cookie cut clay ornaments and make paper chains. We are also expert collectors of all things sparkly - and Tesco club card points.

I’m often surprised by reactions from those who aren’t familiar with homelessness services when talking about our plans for the festive period. “A real tree, presents and a whole Christmas dinner!” they exclaim. To some it may sound frivolous and extravagant, but there is reason for this.

When we work in homeless hostels, we aren’t only focused on supporting people back into communities; we are here to give people a home. Creating a home - temporary or not - is hugely important especially at this time of year when we’re faced with a caricature of the perfect family unit in every high street shop's Christmas advertisements. For me, it’s an opportunity to create new memories to reflect on during difficult times.

Over the years there have been spats over who won the prize in the cracker, trees falling over, presents being thrown (mostly at me), and the obligatory argument over the TV channel. Writing all this down, it strikes me that this sounds not unlike most family units at Christmas; dysfunctional, but looking forward to doing it again next year.

The longer I can drag the festivities out, the greater the opportunity for all our residents to work together to create something to feel proud of, and to make them feel like they are home at last.

Ophelia Kingshott is Development and Implementation Manager at St Mungo's Broadway

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