Christmas can often become something of a focus for overindulgence and spoiling ourselves – but what about those who might be less fortunate than us?
The number of people who are homeless or sleeping rough has continued to rise with government statistics in 2015 showing that 3,569 people slept rough on any one night across England, more than double the numberrecorded in 2010.
While not everyone who is homeless ends up sleeping rough, it is still a serious problem. According to Crisis, 114,790 households in England alone applied to their local authority for homelessness assistance in 2015/16. This is an 11 per cent rise since 2010/11.
Children are particularly vulnerable and recent research by Shelter found that over 120,000 children in Britain will be waking up homeless on Christmas morning – the highest number in a decade.
Appalling living conditions, loneliness and increased tension between those who are homeless can mean Christmas is a particularly difficult time of year for those without homes.
Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, said: “Christmas should be a time for family and friends, for warmth and celebration, yet for homeless people it can be one of the hardest periods of the year – a cold, lonely experience to be endured rather than enjoyed.”
Most of us have walked past someone sleeping rough or begging on the street and wanted to help but simply not been sure how at some point.
Of course, you could simply donate money to one of the many brilliant UK charities which help homeless people – but there are a number of other ways you can help too.
Whether you’ve only got five minutes or a spare five quid, here are seven ways you can do your bit this Christmas…
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There are all kinds of volunteering opportunities available to help the homeless, depending on where you live.
Whether you’re looking for a one-off opportunity or a regular role, there’s plenty of chance to get involved.
Crisis are looking for more than 10,000 volunteers across a number of services at locations around the country over the Christmas period. Registration is now open for roles including services volunteers (those with profession skills such as hairdressing, catering and healthcare), night shifters to keep centres running 24-hours-a-day, logistics volunteers (drivers, translations, delivery coordination) and entertainment volunteers (such as musicians, artists and sports coaches). They also need general volunteers to chat to guests, serve food, sort bedding and welcome people to their centres.
The Salvation Army needs people to help prepare and serve food and run activities in community centres. They also need people to help staff charity shops over the festive period, as well as during the rest of the year.
Regional charities, such as St Mungo’s in London, are often looking for people to volunteer to help shake buckets at collections. Check with your local homeless charity to see what help they may need at Christmas.
Do It is also a database with over a million volunteering places available, including over the Christmas period.
Use an app
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Evidence suggests that some rough sleepers may not be known to local services and that not all rough sleepers are aware that advice and services are available to them.
If you’ve seen someone sleeping rough and are worried about them, there’s an app that makes it easy to alert local authorities to the situation.
When a rough sleeper is reported via the Streetlink app, the details are sent to the local authority concerned, so they can help connect the person to local services and support. You will also receive an update on what action was taken so you’ll know if the situation was resolved.
Matt Harrison, director of StreetLink, explained: “StreetLink enables people to take immediate action when they are concerned about someone sleeping rough in their community by alerting local services. With the public’s help, in the last 12 months we have already connected over 10,000 people with the support they needed to escape rough sleeping.
“Anyone can become homeless and sleeping on the streets is dangerous. We hope that many more people will do what they can to support organisations working to end homelessness, and will join the movement and take that first, simple step by using StreetLink to help when they see someone sleeping rough, no matter what the time of year.”
Go to a carol concert
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Even the biggest Scrooge enjoys a carol service at Christmas, so why not try going to one for a good cause?
A number of homeless charities hold carol concerts around the country at Christmas-time.
The Choir with No Name, which runs choirs for homeless and marginalised people, will be putting on a number of concerts. The charity has four choirs – two in London, one in Liverpool and one in Birmingham. They will be holding their own concerts, as well as performing at the Shelter Christmas Carol concert and at the Winter Festival 2016 at London’s Southbank Centre.
Crisis holds free services in Birmingham, Edinburgh, London and Newcastle, while regional charities, such as St Mungo’s in London, also hold their own concerts.
Go carol singing yourself
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If you’d like to help raise money to support the work of homeless charities but don’t fancy going to a concert, why not take matters into your own hands?
Get a group of friends together, ideally with someone vaguely musically talented involved – and make your way around the neighbourhood.
Collecting money while carol singing may require a permit, so it’s best to check with your local council on what the rules are.
If singing isn’t your style, you could still hold your own fundraising event or join in with Slippers for Shelter, the housing charity’s campaign to raise money to help children who are homeless at Christmas. The day, on 9 December, will see people around the country wear their slippers to work to raise money for the charity.
Help someone wrap up warm
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“Cold weather conditions can prove fatal for people sleeping on the streets. Tragically, the average age of death for a homeless person is just 47,” says Mat Downie, director of policy and external affairs at Crisis.
If you want to help provide items which will help keep people warm, one campaign based in London (although it has now spread to San Francisco as well) has the answer.
Crack + Cider – so named because of what one homeless man told them people believed he would spend his money on – has a range of items which you can “buy” which will then be distributed to those most in need.
They have worked with homeless organisations to formulate a range of items which are particularly useful, which includes hats, gloves, socks, fleece jumpers, backpacks, umbrellas and military grade waterproof jackets.
More recently female hygiene kits and canine care packs have also been added.
Visit the Crack + Cider website for more information here.
Stop for a cup of tea and a chat
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Stopping for a chat over a cup of tea is a great British past-time and can make all the difference to a person’s day, whether homeless or not.
If you feel comfortable doing so, buying someone a hot drink or even a meal is an easy way of showing someone else some kindness.
Matt Downies, director of policy and external affairs at Crisis, said: “A bit of human contact could make a huge difference.”
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The Homelessness Reduction Bill is currently making its way through Parliament. This is to amend the Housing Act 1996 to make provision about measures for reducing homelessness and will provide more support for those at risk of sleeping rough.
You can write to your MP to urge them to support the bill as it makes its way through Parliament.
You can also sign up to St Mungo’s Stop The Scandal campaign, which especially focuses on those who are sleeping rough with mental health conditions.
Of course, homelessness is a year-round problem and although efforts to help are particularly appreciated around Christmas, the battle doesn’t end there.
If you want to continue to help, why not put some of the above suggestions into practice all year round or contact your local homeless charity to ask how you can help beyond the festive period?
The Huffington Post UK is running a fortnight-long focus around helping others this Christmas. Giving Back will shine a light on the organisations and individuals making a difference in their community, tackling issues such as loneliness, homelessness, food waste and financial struggle. We’d also love to hear your stories. To blog for Giving Back, email ukblogteam@Thelovechildbook.com. To keep up to date with our features and find tips on how you can make a difference this Christmas, follow the hashtag #GivingBack.