Homelessness: it isn’t just for Christmas.
I read today that the average life expectancy of a homeless person in the UK is as low as 47, compared to the average of 81 for the rest of the UK. To look at it another way, if we took homeless people as a ‘state’ then they would be jostling with Sierra Leone near the bottom of the world table.
This is a shocking statistic, and when paired with the figure of 6508 people sleeping rough in my city of London last year, you are left with a very sour taste in your mouth.
Over this festive period you are going to be inundated with reminders of the homelessness crisis we have here in the UK. You’ll see adverts on the train, people begging will sit outside the shops you dive into on Christmas Eve, and superstores will take collections of food.
This will be coupled with almost romanticised images of poverty. Oliver Twist will appear on your TV, there will no doubt be a homeless man and his dog featured in the backgrounds of films, and you’re guaranteed to see an image of a hungry child watching a Christmas dinner through the window of a beautiful candle-lit family home. This bizarre mixture of fundraising and ‘poverty porn’ will serve to highlight to us the scale and plight of the homeless population of the UK and we will be driven to give and support in huge numbers.
A recent study by the Institute of Fundraising found that online giving in November and December accounted for almost two-fifths of the average UK charity’s incoming donations. Millions of pounds are raised and a lot of fantastic organisations provide a lifeline to many.
However there is another side to this story of festive cheer and charitable giving.
Come the New Year and a lot of the temporary shelters will have to ask people to move out. The over filled hostels that have shown generosity will begin to open for tourists again. The Oliver Twist heartbreak stories will fade from your screen. The season of excess will end as we stand in the cold exploding expensive coloured powder into the night sky to the bongs of Big Ben.
The homelessness crisis, however, won’t end.
But as the rest of the nation begins to pack away its stockings and throw away unwanted gifts there will be groups of people across the nation silently carrying on their work. There will be people working beneath the surface, unnoticed and touching lives.
These are the faith groups, motivated and united in their common cause to support the ‘orphan and the widow’. The Sikh organisations who hand out hot and tasty food outside Charing Cross will continue to do so, the Church run medical van ‘Greenlight’ will still be doing the rounds on London’s streets. People of faith up and down the country will be quietly beavering away.
Last year FaithAction produced a publication ‘What a Difference Faith Makes to… Homelessness!’. It highlighted faith-based organisations who were working year round to help and provided some recommendations and solutions for the long term.
You see, homelessness isn’t just for Christmas. That man outside your railway station with a cardboard sign, that you are suspicious about, will still be there in the New Year. But then so will the faith groups, silently, below the surface.
Homelessness isn’t just for Christmas, neither is caring about it.
 “Global Health Observatory Data Repository: Life expectancy – Data by country” (CSV). Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Statistics 2015, World Health Organization, WHO. 2015. Retrieved 2015-05-21. the technical health information is based on data accurate with respect to the year indicated (2013)