The Cold Truth about a Homeless Winter

October 29, 2015

By Amy Wilkinson

The summer is well and truly over, and Christmas is slowly creeping back up on us. With one of the coldest UK winters in decades on the cards followed by a forecast of up to three weeks of snow, most of us are feeling a little excited in approaching a wonderfully white Christmas. But what about those of us without a place to hide from the hard winter conditions this year?

Banksy street art [photo credit: icanvasart.com]

Banksy street art [photo credit: icanvasart.com]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As the clocks go back and the nights turn cold, there’s nothing more appealing than arriving home from work, putting the fireplace on and getting into your onesie. Whether it is with love or hate, we all anticipate the first airing of Mariah Carey’s ‘All I want for Christmas’ on our local radio. With all the commercialism sucking us in throughout the winter season, sometimes it is all too easy to forget about the homeless.

The bleak UK winters have sadly seen the end for so many homeless people over the years, and with weather predictions this year warning of severe conditions, many homeless charities across the country are raising awareness about the harsh reality many of our country’s less fortunate residents could be facing.

Generalising is an easy trap we all fall into, especially when it comes to the homeless. It is easy when discussing realities unrelated to those of our own, to simply dehumanise a situation, and see it from no perspective but our own. Whether you know someone on a personal level, or you simply pass them on the street never to see them again, we are all people, and one thing we all know how to empathise with when facing a crisis, is human suffering.

So why when it comes to the homeless, do so many of us seem to forget this human instinct to help those in need? There have been negative connotations surrounding homelessness in the UK for years, leaving many of us to simply walk past without batting an eyelid when a person in need asks us for help. Is it possible that years of stigma and bad press have caused us to dehumanise people of our very own kind?

“The winter is really tough on people who are sleeping rough. You honestly can’t imagine what it’s like, you really cant.”

I spoke to a volunteer from one of Leeds’ local charities for the homeless, who has asked to remain anonymous, about her experience in getting to know some of the city’s homeless on a more personal level, and how the rough winter weather has an effect on those more vulnerable.

She said: “I’ve been working with the charity for four years now. Homelessness is actually a topic very close to home for me, I had quite a complicated upbringing and spent a couple of months sleeping rough back when I was a teenager.

“A lot of the people who receive help from us I’ve come to know on a much deeper level than just someone who needs my help, they’re my friends. A lot of people seem to view the homeless as a ‘thing’, just a person sitting on the street with a cup in their lap and a dog by their side, but they’re real people with real lives, families, girlfriends, boyfriends.

“People seem to think if you’re homeless you put yourself there, through drug abuse or being lazy. You’d be surprised at some peoples back stories.

“Winter 2014 was really hard for me, and the whole team. I took two weeks off for Christmas to visit my family, and when I came back I was told that three of our customers – my friends – had passed away. One of the guys had had a tough few years almost entirely spent sleeping rough, and he’d been in recovery for  a couple of months. The last time I’d checked in with him he had a job interview lined up.

“The winter is really tough on people who are sleeping rough. You honestly can’t imagine what it’s like, you really cant.”

There are thousands of charities both locally and nationally, that focus on helping the homeless, especially through the colder seasons.

Andrew Omond from St George’s Crypt, one of Leeds’ leading homeless charities, told me about the dangers people sleeping rough may face this winter. He also explained some of the risks he’s concerned about, and ways that the public can help.

He said: “The cold and wet are our main causes of concern. People who are rough sleeping do not have easy access to washing machines, tumble dryers etc, and so the cold gets in, the wet gets in and this speeds on illness. Also the dark can be a danger – people don’t get seen, they become easier to assault, steal from, discriminate against.

St George's Crypt

St George’s Crypt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Leeds as a city has quite a coordinated approach to homelessness – there are numerous agencies working to alleviate the issue of homelessness from street outreach teams to emergency accommodation to hostels – there is a pretty all-encompassing service backed up by the City Council.

“Awareness is key concern this winter – both public and of people becoming homeless. It’s all well and good having these services but if people are not aware of them then they can’t direct those in need to them.

“People need to know about the different agencies that offer support, and raise awareness in local communities about the services that are out there for homeless and vulnerable people. We offer a voucher service where the public can buy vouchers that can be exchanged here [St Georges Crypt] for a free meal, use of all our services and help and advice.”

This winter, people can help out with local charities like St Georges Crypt as well as national homeless charities, and there are ways to do it without having to fit it around your busy schedule.

Take a look at some of these Twitter profiles, to see how to get involved during the Christmas season:

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