Christmas is just around the corner and for many, that will mean food and fun enjoyed in the company of friends and family.
For the estimated 116,000 people experiencing homelessness – Christmas can be a painful time. While the world around them seems to be connecting with loved ones, it can be a reminder of grief, loss, and isolation. Domestic violence rates tend to rise over Christmas, with increased alcohol abuse and financial stress leading to a spike in homelessness for women, young people and children.
There’s lots of ways to positively contribute to those doing it tough this Christmas, and here are four things you can do to help out…
Spare a Little Change and Stop for a Chat
Daily life while sleeping rough can be unsafe, isolating and dehumanising. While many of those who end up sleeping rough have experienced complex trauma, or are escaping unsafe situations, as a society we judge, blame, or simply ignore those most in need of a little kindness.
Some loose change is helpful, but extending a little care can do a lot more. As Ann Cooper from Cos We Care told us in a recent interview – “You never know where someone has come from, but everyone deserves care, and when you show that it changes everything.”
So next time your rushing through the CBD or walking past someone who is sleeping rough, offer some change and to stop for a chat. A simple – “mind if I stop for a chat” gives someone the freedom to decline, and opens the door to what might be the first interaction someone has experienced that day.
Donate Your Time
It’s the busiest time of year for charities that support people who are suffering extremely disadvantage and homelessness. Across most local communities in Australia neighbourhood houses, community kitchens and drop in centres will be in full swing. The majority of these small organisations depend on volunteers to keep the wheels turning. Chris Holstein at Coast Shelter says they couldn’t do what they do without a committed team of volunteers –
“Christmas is by far the time of greatest demand on our services – providing meals but especially hampers to those in financial stress. Coast Shelter is lucky to have the support of over two hundred regular volunteers who give so generously of their time, energy and skills in providing meals and support to those who come to us for assistance.”
From collecting and sorting donated goods, packing and delivering emergency relief hampers, and preparing community meals – there’s never a shortage of work that needs doing. So why not find out who is doing this work in your area, and offer to lend a hand.
Be an Advocate
Cuts to emergency aid organisation Foodbank recently caused enough of a public backlash to force the government to amend that decision. This is a rare example of an issue that specifically affects poor and marginalised people making it to the middle-class-mainstream.
Issues like the desperate need to drastically increase public and social housing, or cruel and changes to Centrelink rules don’t tend to get much traction beyond poor-bashing headline in conservative tabloids. Single parents are a regular target, as are indigenous people, anyone looking for work, or having ever needed to claim a benefit at all.
These are issues that primarily affect people without a political voice. As the recent Foodbank example showed, by standing together we can protect and promote the interests of our society’s most disadvantaged.
Read about news that affects the poor, share links, talk to your networks about it and sign petitions like this one. There are a number of homeless support pages on Facebook which share national and local news, as well as the StreetSmart page.
Support One of Our Campaigns and Lend a Hand to People Doing it Tough
It would be remiss of us not to include our two major Christmas campaigns in this list.
DineSmart is in full swing, with 130 restaurants all raising funds for local homelessness services. Odds are you’ll be invited to at least one work break-up, social group outings and family dinners before Christmas arrives. Suggest a DineSmart participating venue and you’ll be helping to raise funds for homelessness organisations in the local area.
You can also chip in to our StreetFunder campaign which is funding four small projects to buy gifts, fill hampers, and hold community Christmas lunches.