How homeless people will cope this Christmas
Christmas and New Year is often seen as a time for celebration, eating plenty of good food and spending valuable time together with family and friends.
But for those without a home this yuletide, it can be anything but.
Even though extra funding to deal with homelessness is having great success in getting more people off the streets in Suffolk, rough sleepers still remain in Ipswich this winter.
A huge effort has gone into giving the town’s homeless warmth and shelter this Christmas, with Ipswich Winter Night Shelter opening all day on December 25 to ensure rough sleepers are not completely alone.
But Julia Hancock – business manager of the Selig (Suffolk) Trust, the charity behind the Winter Night Shelter – said: “Although we do what we can to make the shelter feel warm safe and welcoming, this isn’t how anyone wants to spend Christmas.
“The world portrays this perfect family gathering eating a banquet.
“Those without a home haven’t got that.
“It’s not so much about having a house. It’s what comes with it – the warmth, the companionship, the friends and family.”
The Winter Night Shelter does what it can to give homeless people some of that, for example by taking guests to the Harvester restaurant at Cardinal Park for Christmas lunch.
But Mrs Hancock said: “For us as a shelter, we tread a fine line between acknowledging it is Christmas but just trying to help them get through it.”
Over-the-top celebrations risk accentuating feelings of loneliness that homeless people often feel at Christmas, she explained.
“We want to try and keep things as normal as possible,” she said.
“For people who become homeless, it’s not just that they have lost a home but also a network of family and friends.
“Christmas just heightens that. It’s not just the roof over their heads – it’s what comes with it.”
Mrs Hancock, who has worked at the Winter Night Shelter for three years, said the role had made her think more about the meaning of Christmas and helping those less fortunate.
“I don’t want people to feel as if they shouldn’t enjoy Christmas,” she said.
“People work hard and it’s great to celebrate with family.
“But it’s important to realise that there are people who don’t have that support and who find it really difficult.”
Evelyn Crossland – manager of the Ipswich-based Chapman Centre, which provides support to homeless people – said its clients were benefiting from festive meals and support in the run-up to Christmas and New Year, with a church providing a meal on Christmas Day and Ipswich Soup Kitchen running a service on Boxing Day.
After staying open on Christmas Eve, the centre in Black Horse Lane, Ipswich is back open on December 27.
She also praised members of the public who have been “extremely generous with donations for the Chapman Centre”.
But she added: “We do need support not just at Christmas but throughout the year.
“Homelessness and rough sleeping is a 365-day problem, not just at Christmas. It can happen to anyone.”
Neil MacDonald, portfolio holder for housing and health at Ipswich Borough Council, said: “Homelessness is a problem all year round.
“Christmas is about goodwill to all men so at Christmas time, it certainly pulls at the heart strings.
“I can’t imagine being homeless at Christmas. It’s about family time and it’s about getting together.
“A lot of homeless people are excluded from that. They can feel very isolated and very lonely.
“There are a lot of Christmas lunches going on but they don’t get the family and the security – they must miss that.”
Those looking to help those less fortunate than themselves at Christmas are asked to make a donation to a charity or organisation working to alleviate homeless, rather than give directly to a rough sleeper.
Mr MacDonald also encouraged people to report any rough sleepers they see by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
People can also report examples of rough sleeping by visiting streetlink.org.uk – which, although a national website, goes to an outreach worker at the Chapman Centre.