Christmas is a time for families to come together, getting excited about buying presents, putting up the Christmas tree and planning the Christmas dinner. But for thousands of young people it is a time filled with loneliness; with an estimated 18,000 young people at risk of homelessness this Christmas.
Loneliness during Christmas time for the Homeless
Christmas can be the perfect time to really stop and appreciate what you have in life – good health, a place to live, food on the table. This gratitude can help to deal with anxiety, learn to live in the present moment and be mindful of your surroundings. So you can imagine that the lack of these things can make Christmas hard for those who are homeless, with many describing it as a time of intense loneliness as others come together with their family and loved ones. Really everyone should have someone at Christmas.
Christmas is a time when homeless are in the minds of the public when we see people sleeping rough during the coldest weather. But it isn’t just about not having a roof over their heads; just having no-one around can make people feel very alone. Homeless people need support: Centrepoint research found that nine in ten homeless young people felt no one cared about them while they were sleeping rough; with their self-confidence being at rock bottom they are often anxious and depressed. On the cold dark streets they feel ignored and sofa-surfers feel unwanted, wondering if anyone would be bothered whether they live or die.
Christmas can bring up memories of Christmas past – these can be painful because they are no longer able to celebrate Christmas this way, and others have experienced difficult childhoods which weren’t filled with the happy Christmas memories that many of us take for granted. It can set off anxieties. Some feel that they do not want to wake up in the mornings because they do not want to spend another day on their own.
ELIZABETH, CENTREPOINT RESIDENT
It’s so scary being on your own, it causes depression and makes you feel down and not wanting to do anything. When it comes to Christmas, it’s meant to be a happy time but it’s really not… Someone needs to just say ‘don’t worry, this is not the end’. I never got that. You lose hope, that’s what’s happening to young people. Especially at Christmas you need to give them the confidence not to give up – that there are people around you
Reasons people end up Homeless
There are a myriad of reasons why a person becomes homeless — lack of affordable housing, loss of a job, divorce, illness, substance abuse, domestic abuse to name a few. I myself was homeless at sixteen shortly before Christmas.
“I FELT LONELY AT CHRISTMAS. I DIDN’T HAVE ANYONE AROUND ME”
Ben will never forget the Christmas Day he ended up in hospital seriously ill. To make matters worse, a relative visited him and told him he couldn’t go home. He’s never been back. Ben left hospital with nowhere to go. He had no choice but to spend long dark nights on a park bench. This Christmas 18,000 young homeless people like Ben won’t have a place to call home.
Christmas can be an incredibly stressful time of year for some. The additional pressure it brings can push struggling families to breaking point. Family breakdown is the biggest cause of youth homelessness in England, and around two-thirds of young people supported by Centrepoint are homeless due to family breakdown. Financial pressures at Christmas can also be really difficult for young people to manage. Many struggle to stay on top of bills and rent payments, placing their ability to manage a tenancy at risk.
“I’m in this situation due to domestic violence against me from my parents… I guess the building up to it happened over Christmas time, then straight after Christmas it all happened and my first experience of homelessness was in January… I did sleep rough, in my garden, for four or five nights,” says one young person.
“I remember struggling through Christmas with money. You have to try and pay for it, but at that time of year, you might get ill, you don’t get paid, you start struggling. You can’t pay your bills. Suddenly, you’re in arrears,” says another young person who took part in our research.
The Damage Homelessness Can Do
It has been reported that homeless people feel that people look down on them, saying words that harm them. That assumptions are made about why they are there and what they are doing. Or they often feel ashamed or invisible to others, leading to them feeling like they don’t deserve to be helped. Crucially, these experiences make it even harder for people to rebuild their lives: making it harder to seek help, and secure or maintain a job. In the worst cases, people had even considered or attempted suicide.
People have been known to form unwanted sexual relationships just to keep a roof over their heads, many feel they are treated differently since becoming homeless – especially that if they are to blame for their situation. A large majority find that relationships with family and friends deteriorate since becoming homeless and rough sleepers are reported as being 17 times more likely than the general public to face a risk of physical violence.
How we all can help the homeless young people to feel less alone at Christmas
The best way we can help the homeless this (and every) Christmas is to educate ourselves. That can be discovering why people have become homeless and ways both locally and nationally they can be helped. The smallest gesture such as a simple smile can make the world of difference. Homeless people can be very lonely so if you can sit and talk with them. Provide for them (a hot, drink, a meal, a blanket, coat, gloves, hat, scarf, clothes, toys, etc) either directly or via charity or donate a coffee schemes. There are local food banks collecting and domestic violence charities often collect from supermarkets to name just a couple of ways to donate if you do not feel comfortable approaching someone who is homeless. If you can help someone get home for Christmas or provide a safe bed for a young person.
Help for the Homeless from Centrepoint
Again not everyone feels comfortable approaching the homeless but last year, over 2,400 young people were helped by Centrepoint over Christmas who believe that everyone should have someone at Christmas. The support has helped them forget the difficult things they’d experienced in the past.
“People were more focused on the actual day than their past and what happened to them before. They were more focused on the people around and the jokes we were having, rather than thinking about what we didn’t have before. It was a good day, I felt like most of us got closer together,” recalls Luke, a young person who spend Christmas with Centrepoint last year.
Centrepoint need your help to support more young people – not just physically, but mentally. Simply having a Christmas dinner together and joining in group activities can mean the world to homeless young people. But not just for Christmas but for their futures. Offering counselling to overcome the isolation and traumas of their past, to live independently and learn practicalities like organising finances and paying bills.
- £50 COULD HELP PROVIDE COUNSELLING – From family breakdown to rough sleeping, homelessness is tough on mental health – especially at Christmas. Your donation could mean a young person has access to mental health support.
- £144 COULD HELP SPONSOR A ROOM – Your gift will not only help provide a warm, safe room for up to a year, but it will also go towards providing vital support such as functional skills workshops, and access to our sport engagement programmes.
Give the Gift of Companionship this Christmas – Donate now at the Centrepoint Christmas appeals page
Photos from Unsplash * Stats from Centrepoint’s research “Out of reach: young people’s experience of rough sleeping and sofa surfing”, 2015.t. We want to end youth homelessness in the UK.
This is a collaborative post.