For the Benefit of All My Brothers and Sisters who are Homeless at Christmas

By Paul Sinclair (One World One People) 24/12/01

Merry Christmas all you champions,

Because it is Christmas, I am going to use some of that good old-fashioned Christmas festive Spirit, that seems to build up at this time of year, to shine the torch into some of the loneliest, most misunderstood, corners of British Society.

Volunteers having fun in the kitchen at a
London shelter

So stand back as we dive under the Christmas tree, kiddie style, at great pace, to grab whatever's there (except the cat) ready to rip whatever covers it, to shreds and see what goodies drop out.

Every Christmas, a couple of Homeless Charities in London, open a few large Shelters over the Christmas period. They open their doors, to not just to the people who have no homes, but people who currently live in hostels and even people who have homes. Basically, anyone who doesn't have family or friends and don't want to spend Christmas on their own. So, who are these Homeless People and why do they have no-one or no place to go to for Christmas? (I only define a home as somewhere where the occupants care about each other or have access to other people who care, e.g. family or friends)

Homelessness is very closely related to poverty. You often find that many low income or minimum wage earners are one hardship away from losing their homes and becoming homeless because they don't earn enough to save for emergencies. They may lose their job or get paid late or be forced to take unpaid leave from work because of sickness or lose a crucial social security benefit to name but a few, and find they are behind in paying their rent or mortguage. This maybe all it takes for them to be evicted from their homes. This is how many families become homeless.

Other types of homeless people can come from all walks of life and find it very difficult to fit into normal social living. There can be many outward causes of this, but the real cause is usually to be found inside them. They typically have personal problems that they can't cope with on their own. This nearly always leads them to have extremely low self-esteem and feel low self-worth. Some have long forgotten they are human beings.

For example, one guy I came to hear about, used to have a highly paid professional job, a nice house and a beautiful family. Then one day, he was informed his wife and children had been involved in a car accident and their were no survivors. He consequently stopped working, stopped paying the bills and the mortgage on his house and eventually became homeless. This bloke apparently, spent years living on the streets before one day, he just snapped out of it and decided enough was enough. He now works helping other Homeless People and educating Non-Homeless People. His message: never judge a Homeless Person, because you never know who they are and how they got there.

Similarly, other people who frequent Shelters, come dressed in suits and even designer clothes. Many had successful careers, before suffering nervous breakdowns or other mental health problems sometimes caused by their life-styles.

Some Homeless People suffer from drug and alcohol problems. Nearly always, these substances aren't the cause of their problems, they are just the means they use to escape from having to deal with the consequences of their problems. (They tend to bury their real problems, deep in the backs of their minds, so they don't have go through the fear of facing them). Sometimes their problems go all the way back to their childhoods.

Some people can become homeless because they have what could be called 'difficult personalities'. Usually, because of their conditioning as children, they have never learnt 'How to relate to other people' skills. Often times, without even realising it, they can say and do things to which other people may take offence. This means that they tend to have a lot of trouble making friends and keeping them. Likewise, they can have extraordinary difficulty finding jobs and holding them, even though they might be capable workers.

What these people really are, are excellent teachers of tolerance. As such, I try to treat them with great respect, never take anything they say personally and I try to never react negatively to them. This way, I stay on good terms with them. This helps them to be open to observing me and by example, I try to show them new ways of relating to people. Then they can choose of their own freewill, in their own time, to modify their ways as they wish, so they can hopefully relate to people more successfully and have happier lives.

Lastly, one of the saddest reflections on modern British Society are the people with severe mental health problems, who are forced to live on the streets, because they have no-one too care for them. Years ago, the British Government decided to reduce their public spending, by introducing what they call the 'Care in the Community' approach, to looking after people with severe mental health problems. They simply closed down many Public Care Facilities and sent their patients home to their parents or left them to fend for themselves. Often, the parents didn't have the skills, experience or resources to give them proper care and they usually ended up on the streets. In my experience it is not even very common to see them in emergency Night Shelters, where they can get a free meal. Instead, I most often see them on the streets going through rubbish bins.

One bloke I heard about, was given his own flat and a TV by the local council. He lived quite happily for a couple of weeks, until he lost his set of keys. He then spent the next three months living in a nearby park because he couldn't figure out how to get another set of keys. Eventually, a nice man bothered to try to talk to him, found out the situation and got another set of keys for him. He now checks up on him as often as he can and has formed a friendship with him. He told me, his new friend has taught him many things about himself and others through their friendship. Once, he was attending a Church Service when his new friend came to visit him at the church. His friend walked down the aisle, right past him and continued up onto the platform (where a surprised priest did his best to not stop the service) and proceeded to put all the candles out. He had seen the flames on top of the candles and decided to save the church from burning down and hurting all the people inside.

So you see, these people aren't animals, they are actually human beings; someone's son or daughter. Many need to be in proper care facilities where they can be given a decent standard of life.

People often wonder why I volunteer in Homeless Shelters. The reason is quite simple; I love it! I only do it two nights a week at the moment, but if I didn't have other responsibilities, I would be in there every night. I think sometimes, people either think I am mad or some kind of altruist. Well, to be truthful about this, I am neither. I get a lot more out of doing this work than I put in. I go there each time and offer my services as well as my humble offering of warmth, friendship and respect to the volunteers and guests alike. In return, I get all those things back and more. I get to learn about people, society and even myself. (Sometimes the people help me to see my own weaknesses, so I can try to improve myself)

Also, I learn to appreciate the fact, that I have a nice warm bed to go home to every night and the opportunity to eat when I like and what I like. I learn to appreciate my own loved ones a lot more, because I have them, whereas many of the Homeless People don't. So, I naturally become a more content, happier person. Also, I firmly believe, that one of the reasons we are born here into this world, is to learn to care about others. This would explain why those who make the effort to do this, find much happiness, because they are doing something really worthwhile.

Merry Christmas all you champions,

Take care and bye now.

For other articles about helping the Homeless see also:

How to Give Hope & Dignity Back to Homeless People, Chicago, US.

It is possible to do voluntary work in London through:
West London Churches Homeless Concern
Telephone: 020 7352 9305
All are welcome

© One World One People, 24 January 2002
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