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Are you cold?

written by Emma 18th December 2016

Yeah me too. In fact, I’m freezing. I keep my coat on most days at work and wear my dressing gown to bed. I buy nice wool jumpers, have hot baths and then snuggle under my duvet and watch TV by the fire.

There is a man sleeping in the car park downstairs, and he’s cold too. In fact, he’s freezing. But, unlike me, there’s not much he can do about it. That is, apart from asking strangers for spare change so he can get enough money to sleep in a hostel for the night.  

I help out once a week with a charity called ‘The New Help the Homeless’ in Southampton. It’s run entirely by volunteers and led by a lovely couple called Lynn and Pete who go out six days a week and hand out food, hot drinks, clothes and sleeping bags to the homeless. The homeless rely on this group but financially, it’s struggling to keep going, especially with the catastrophic rise in people sleeping rough.

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Elaine and Chelsea, two of the volunteers. 

These homeless people are on the street for all sorts of reasons. Some have been victims of domestic abuse, some have been orphaned, some are ex-army and some suffer with mental health problems. There are also some who have turned to alcohol and drugs, but in sub-zero temperatures, can you blame them?

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A homeless man who regularly comes with his dog to get a hot meal. He wanted to remain anonymous. 

But it’s not until you meet them that you realise they’re not just ‘the homeless’ – they’re people.

There’s Derek, who loves Chelsea buns because when he was a little boy, he thought they looked like clowns’ faces. There’s Tasha, who last week took 24 cheese scones because, she told us excitedly, that she’s pregnant! There’s David, who dreams of buying and doing up his own canal boat because he loves the peace and quiet of the river. And then there’s Danny who died last week because he had nowhere to go.

It’s madness that in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, there are still so many people living on the street: men, women and children.

So I urge you, this year for Christmas, spend £5 less on a party dress, buy one fewer bottle of mulled wine, or get the person that’s got everything a charity gift. You have no idea how much of a difference one of these could make:

1. Buy a charity gift from Centre Point https://centrepoint.org.uk/buy-a-gift/

2. Make up a Christmas shoebox and give it to a local shelter. This is one I’ve prepared for the charity I help with! (below) And if you’re local, you can get involved here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1407386152899451/permalink/1621608061477258/?pnref=story

3. Volunteer a few hours and help around the Christmas period. I’m helping out on Boxing Day with my local charity, but if you don’t have one, then Crisis at Christmas are always looking for extra help! So if you’re bored by the 27th, or maybe don’t celebrate Christmas, this is a great way to actively help, and see the difference you’re making. http://www.crisis.org.uk/pages/volunteer-christmas.html

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I received a letter the other day that claimed that ‘nothing could be done about the vagrants living in the car park’. Because the man in the car park wasn’t doing anything illegal, the police, who had been called numerous times, were unable to move him on. It turned out that some of the residents of my block had been rude and verbally abusive to this man, despite him causing no harm by inhabiting a quiet, unoccupied corner of the car park.

When I got home one cold December evening, this was stuck to the door of the block.

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It broke my heart. I was so angry and upset that those of us fortunate enough to have shelter, food and family showed little compassion for those suffering at the worst time of year.

I went and spoke to Simon and his friend personally and told them that I didn’t mind them staying in the car park! And then, I probably shouldn’t have done this, but I wrote a very passive aggressive note back (lol). If you don’t say it, then who will?   

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If you don’t have time to make up a shoebox, or you’re unable to volunteer over the festive period, please, please find it in your heart to show a little compassion to those on the streets this Christmas. Even if that’s just stopping while Christmas shopping for 5 minutes and having a chat to someone. Remember they’re not just ‘the homeless’, they’re people too. 

This is an amazing short documentary that my friend Tom made explaining what the charity do.

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