As we approach winter, the Christmas decorations go up and we’re surrounded by messages of friends, family and togetherness from all sides.
But when you’re experiencing homelessness, this time of year can have a very different feeling. The reality of facing dark nights and icy temperatures when you have nowhere to call home is frightening, unrelenting and in the worst cases, deadly.
Increased feelings of isolation
This time of year is usually one full of festive plans. Work parties with colleagues, family get togethers - a packed social calendar that usually involves living life to the full. For someone sleeping rough, or experiencing any form of homelessness, it can be a painful reminder of what they may have lost - homes, jobs and loved ones, often their children.
These feelings of isolation can exacerbate or lead to feelings of depression and anxiety. Rates of mental health difficulties are already disproportionately higher in homeless communities than in the general population, and it really isn’t difficult to see how this could spiral during the festive season.
The next time you see someone who might be sleeping rough, think about what a difference just saying hello could make. Very often , those facing homelessness are barely even acknowledged, and treated as though they were invisible.
Increased risk of health problems
As well as the constant stress of uncertain accommodation, exposure to the harsh winter conditions can have some serious consequences for someone’s physical health.
Prolonged exposure to cold temperatures can cause the body’s temperature to drop. Trying to keep the body warm uses a lot of the body’s stored energy, and the result can mean a person risks becoming disoriented and not able to move well. In some cases, they can lose consciousness.
If you have any concerns that someone you see sleeping rough is suffering from hypothermia, always try to seek assistance. StreetLink is an excellent resource to connect with various services, but in the case of an emergency always call for an ambulance.
Frostbite damages a person’s extremities by freezing - usually the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers and toes. In worst-case scenarios, the tissue can be damaged so badly that a person would need to have an amputation.
Throw in wet conditions to the cold temperatures and the risk of trench foot can hugely increase.
Those experiencing homelessness may only have access to one pair of shoes which get worn down over time, this allows water to seep through. Water causes the body to lose heat a lot faster and that’s where the injury can begin. Skin tissue begins to die due to a lack of oxygen and nutrients.
What can you do to help?
Donating practical items
Doing a winter wardrobe clearout? Consider donating any preloved items to charity or to initiatives supporting homeless communities.
Here at Simon on the Streets, we always welcome donations of new winter clothing such as hoodies, jogging bottoms and waterproof jackets and coats in sizes small or medium.
Take action if someone is in distress
If you see someone in distress, ask them if they need help if you feel comfortable enough to do so. Particularly with conditions like hypothermia, quick medical attention can make all the difference - sometimes between life and death.
Support a Christmas appeal
If you’re unsure where to begin when it comes to supporting those facing homelessness this winter, you can always donate to our Simon on the Streets Christmas appeal. Your donations keep our outreach team out in the community working hard to connect with and support those who need it the most.
Small actions can make a big difference. Please spare a thought for those going through homelessness this winter. The harsh weather conditions make what is already an unimaginable situation, even harder.
If you’d like more information on how you can help, you can contact our senior fundraiser, Andy on email@example.com.