In the UK today, there are almost 160,000 households experiencing the worst forms of homelessness, according to the national charity Crisis. This figure is expected to double in the next 25 years.
Homelessness is devastating, dangerous and isolating.
According to Crisis:
- On average, homeless people die at just 47 years old.
- People sleeping on the street are almost 17 times more likely to have been victims of violence.
- More than one in three people sleeping rough have been deliberately hit or kicked, or experienced some other form of violence whilst homeless
- Homeless people are over nine times more likely to take their own life than the general population.
As a firm, we’ve chosen to support Crisis as one of our national charities, and next week around the country we’re organising Christmas Jumper Days, donations to local food banks and other local services, to help fundraise as well as raise awareness of homelessness in the UK.
One member of staff, Vaishnavi from our Sutton office, has spent the last couple of years volunteering at Crisis centres over the Christmas period. She shares her experiences and favourite memories below.
‘Crisis at Christmas’ – it’s the time of the year I look forward to most
By Vaishnavi, Sutton
For most of us, Christmas is marked by a chance to indulge in every way possible. Families and friend meet, eat, we drink and make merry. But for thousands of people up and down the country, things aren’t quite so straightforward, and Christmas poses a uniquely difficult time for them.
‘Crisis at Christmas’ is a unique volunteer effort that provides immediate help for homeless people at a critical time of year. There are five centres in London and more than 8,000 volunteers come together over 10 days to make this happen. I have been volunteering, usually for three days, over the festive period for the last few years at these centres.
Everyone deserves a memorable Christmas and Crisis aims to do exactly that. Schools donate their space, companies and volunteers donate their time, materials and resources to give society’s most vulnerable a chance to experience the warmth and joy of a real Christmas.
My experience at the City of London Academy
Last year, I volunteered at the City of London Academy in Bermondsey.
While the students were away for their Christmas break, the school was converted into a small community. School corridors became high streets lined with hairdressers, dentists, a haberdashery, counsellors, clean showers and even an internet café. We the volunteers were the hosts and the most vulnerable were our guests.
The main assembly hall was converted into a cafeteria, dancehall and social centre with hot food served three times a day. There was always ping pong, arts and crafts activities and even the chance to take part in some karaoke. I’ve never heard a more beautiful rendition of ‘Have I Told You Lately’ sung by one of the guests, an older gent in a wheelchair. The simplest pleasures are sometimes the most precious.
Volunteers at Crisis are given a badge which denotes their name, and in some cases, this may be accompanied by a nationality should you know several languages. Dressed in layers and paired in couples or in groups, the motto is always to create an ‘everything is possible experience’ for society’s invisible and most vulnerable. When handed a toilet brush or the washing up liquid, the only thing to do is complete the required task and then ask for more.
There are faces you will always remember and expressions that communicate volumes. There are those who may be lost or, for some, a wrong turn made. Different languages and dreams whirling in a kind of controlled chaos. For some of the guests, this is the only opportunity to be off the streets and in a secure environment where they are not invisible. Guests and volunteers interact. Some of them share their stories, some just want to have a laugh, a bit of banter; a chance to feel human – visible and safe. Your only job is to make it memorable without judgement.
I wish homelessness did not exist and hence there was no need for these centres, but until that happens, I hope to be able to continue supporting this amazing initiative by Crisis.
Thank you to Vaishnavi for sharing her experiences with us.
How you can support Crisis this Christmas
If you have been inspired by this story, there are several ways you can show your support for Crisis over the coming festive season:
- Sign up as a volunteer: you can help to make a real difference by applying to be a volunteer at one of the Crisis centres around the country
- Buy a Crisis Christmas gift: choose a gift, personalise the card and Crisis will email or post it to the person you’re buying it for
- Other ways to show your support: jump into an icy lido, donate urgently needed items, join a carol service or donate a few hours of your time to collect donations – there are lots of other ways you can get involved and help to end homelessness.
Photography provided by Crisis.org.uk