The real ghosts of Christmas are the homeless, the forgotten and invisible ones who have somehow slipped through the cracks in our society to land on the pavements of our towns and cities.

Being homeless at any time of year is no fun. Each season brings with it its own challenges and risks that are difficult to overcome without a place to call your own. Arguably, Christmas is one of the hardest times to be on the streets on your own. It’s the time everyone else is celebrating family, enjoying great food and time with people they love while temperatures dip and they hope for snow.

Most people pass the homeless without a glance; pretending they’re not there but exacerbating feelings of isolation for rough sleepers. Some will drop a few coins and give a smile or encouraging words and others will verbally abuse them, or worse which only increases levels of anxiety and stress.

In response to the ongoing upward trend in rough sleeper numbers since 2010, last year, Theresa May pledged to halve rough sleeping by 2022 and established a high-level Rough-Sleeping and Homelessness Reduction Taskforce to do so. While the actual figures for each part of the country differ, the overall upward trend is evident in the South West with an increase of 8% in 2017 on the previous year’s figures.

 

Mental Health for Homeless People at Christmas

Being on your own at Christmas is difficult even when you do have a place of your own. Recent figures on loneliness and social isolation show that it is not just a difficult emotional experience, but one that impacts our physical health too. Lacking social connections is comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day and increases the likelihood of mortality by 26%.

Research by Homeless Link found that 45% of homeless people have been diagnosed with a mental health issue and 80% reported a mental health problem such as depression, anxiety or reliance on drugs and other substances – much higher levels than the rest of the UK’s population.

Having a safe and secure home is just as important for your physical health as it is for your mental health. Being homeless can exacerbate or prompt mental health issues. Often, the tips given by health professionals for coping with depression and anxiety don’t consider the challenges faced by people without a home. Staying in touch with others and maintaining social connections, taking daily exercise to lift your mood and maintaining a healthy diet can become insurmountable tasks when you have no home or cooking facilities.

 

Making a Difference All Year Round

At Freedom, our Day Centre provides a safe space for people to unwind and connect with each other as well as access the services and support they need to transform their lives. Other facilities, such as showers, the laundry services, free clothes store and allowing people to use the centre as a ‘care of’ address seem like small kindnesses, but they make a massive difference to someone who is standing up in all they own and doesn’t have a place to call their own.

As one past client commented, “Freedom provided a warm dry place, facilities to clean myself and my clothes, kept my post and gave me a C/- address to use. [They] provided a lifeline [when I was] at my lowest ebb.”

 

Social Connections Ease the Pain of a Christmas Alone

Our Day Centre’s TV lounge and pool tables are sometimes the only places our beneficiaries are able to come to, to meet with friends and engage in activities that help them build and maintain the necessary social connections for better mental health. All of these facilities will be open right up to Christmas, and now that we are running the Safe Sleep service from the same location, rough sleepers will still have somewhere to go on Christmas Day too. You can support us with this work by donating to our #GiftOfFreedom appeal.

This Christmas we are hosting two Christmas dinners and for many, it will be the only Christmas dinner they have this year. The dinner on the 20th of December will cater for all of our Day Centre beneficiaries, providing them not only with a traditional Christmas dinner but also the opportunity to connect with others and strengthen the social bonds that are so integral to maintaining our mental health, connections with our community and bettering our life chances.

On Christmas Day, our team will get together to put on a Christmas dinner for all of the Safe Sleep service users. This year is the first that we’re hosting two Christmas dinners for vulnerable people in North Devon so donations of food, crackers, gifts and even money to cover our overheads are very welcome. Our Christmas Meal Appeal is also open for donations that will go towards providing a Christmas that will be remembered fondly.

Donate to our Christmas Meal Appeal