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Christmas and New Year for the homeless

Discussion in 'Habari na Hoja mchanganyiko' started by Mtambuzi, Dec 24, 2011.

  1. Mtambuzi

    Mtambuzi Platinum Member

    Dec 24, 2011
    Joined: Oct 29, 2008
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    What comes to mind when you think of Christmas: friends and family, trees and decorations, food, cards, presents, shopping, carols, boring television and different celebrations? Normal you might think, but for the homeless the experience is not this cosy or comfortable.
    For them it can be a very confusing, difficult and potentially dangerous time. Their aspirations, hopes and memories may be similar to ours, but the reality they face is very different. Many are young, having run away from home due to misunderstandings, abuse or neglect or having recently entered the country as immigrants; they often arrive in large cities like London, not knowing where to access shelter, food or a safe place to leave any belongings they have.

    Very similar is the journey of a teenage girl who is heavily pregnant, travelling with her fiancĂ©, looking for a place to stay, when many others have also come to the same place, searching for accommodation. Others are middle aged or elderly, men and women, more experienced, knowing where charities supply basic accommodation and a meal, if they do not have an addiction. Of course many of them do, in order to survive for years on the streets, the drugs or alcohol numb them to the pain of being alone, scared, cold and hungry. The average temperature at this time of year during the night is 3 to – 10 degreesCelsius (37 – 14 degrees Fahrenheit).

    Reg was a middle-aged man who had lived on the streets for years. He did not have an addiction. I met him first on a very hot August day, he was wearing three very thick overcoats, which he never removed. As a result he smelt very unpleasant. In mid winter his clothing was the same. The reason, it was his duvet too (which may be stolen removed or destroyed if left where he slept). Even if they have sleeping bags, a sheltered area to sleep (under a bridge, on top of hotel kitchen grates, in a derelict building or covered car park) or many cardboard boxes, the temperature often means that comfort is impossible and when really cold, death is always a possibility. Christmas can be a time when the memories of friends and family can either warm the heart or tear it apart. Those with addictions often use more at this time, to forget the traumas and pain of loss – relationships, children, jobs, homes and respect.

    This can also be true of those who are not addicted leading to depression, anger which can turn to violence or withdrawal from social networks.
    Some are fortunate to have extended family inviting them for lunch, though this is rare. The pain of loss, loneliness and isolation are not the happy Christmas they desire, it is a bitter pill to swallow. Gifts are synonymous with Christmas, though for the homeless they are rare. Some charities and churches do outreach work, giving small practical packages containing food gloves/hats cosmetics and first aid items, which are gratefully received and show some hope and humanity.

    Julie is a street sex worker, attractive and in her early 20's though addicted to heroin.
    When I gave her the small Christmas presents that could fit in a handbag or pocket (some make up, jewellery, perfume and sweets), provided by the charity I worked with, she said "that is the first present I have been given at Christmas since I was 9 years old". Her smile was huge!
    Other gifts that are not so welcome are ‘also given' – they come in the form of beatings and assaults by those who have consumed too much alcohol and enjoy abusing the vulnerable. These attacks can lead to serious injury and even death. The homeless rarely visit hospitals and sometimes look as if the are drunk or sleeping, rather than seriously injured or dying. The Christmas spirit of peace and joy is often not bestowed upon them by those who are considered more acceptable and civilized members of society. At New Year these attacks rise due to the greater consumption of alcohol, parties at public venues and out of control group behaviour.

    The young couple spoken of earlier are the central and true characters of the original Christmas story: Mary and Joseph prior to the birth of Jesus, who searched and searched for somewhere to stay and found none; like many of those on our streets today. Eventually they were given room in a stable, dirty, smelly, unhygienic and cold. The equivalent in our modern times would be under a bridge or in a rubbish dumpster or a covered car park, where some warmth can be achieved and where some people are sleeping tonight. The Christ celebrated at this time of year was born into the conditions many of our homeless face. What would our reaction have been to him and his parents? Would it be similar to those we pass lying on the streets or sitting on steps when shopping or hurrying home? How will we reflect Christmas to them, with humanity or no room? New Year's Eve is the time most of us consider the year that has past, the good the bad and the mediocre.

    We may think about behaviours or attitudes we wish to change and set resolutions to carry these out. Then we join with family and friends to get together and party, to welcome in the new. Alcohol is a growing part of this celebration. First footing is more traditional, when neighbours visit those who live close by, relatives or friends and bring a piece of coal, an orange, sweets and small amounts of alcohol to toast the New Year together. A mixed time for some, though generally full of hope and life. The homeless have communities in which they share this in part. It can be a time when more food is available, as people are buying and dropping or dumping fast food.

    Unfinished drinks, left in pubs by those moving on, can also be acquired. But what is sadly missing for most is the sense of hope that life will indeed change. In a new year when the Olympics visit London the words of Mark a young homeless man, conclude with power, "What do I have to look forward to, more of the same? People do not see me for who I am, just another lost cause who they cannot be bothered with! All I want is someone to give me hope, believe I can be different".

    Christmas and New Year for the homeless |