Winter is here! But is that a good thing…?

by Katherine Carter

The ice and snow blanket the world in white, decorating already beautiful landscapes and making us think about warm fires and Christmas. It’s a lovely thought, but what about the reality? Is everything that straight forward? Yes, the ice and snow can look pretty but it’s also slippery and so, so cold – especially for those living on the streets. 

One of my placements this year leads me to interact with homeless people at a drop-in centre. Whilst there I get to chat to them about life and a whole range of topics while they enjoy tea, toast and warmth for a short time before they head back out into the cold. Winter is a hard time for those living on the streets; the cold seeps into the bones and merely staying alive becomes a challenge. The government doesn’t help much either – they must have a local connection to be able to access help and then applying and receiving benefits can be a challenge too. This is especially hard when they don’t have easy access to the internet and the online systems the benefits process needs.

It isn’t all completely bleak though – there are places such as Basis, run by Oasis Community Housing, where I’ve been volunteering, who offer somewhere to warm up and have something to eat as well as shower and wash their clothes. They also have a night service, providing shelter overnight. The Durham Winter Night Shelter also provide shelter for those homeless in Durham on the coldest nights as well.

It is incredibly sad that these services even need to exist, but I am so glad that they do. I’m also grateful for the time I am able to spend volunteering with them. I know it isn’t much, but I hope that a cheery face and conversation will provide a positive alternative, even if it is only briefly, from the world they have to face when they step back outside. If you also have time or resources to help out, would you consider helping them?

Christmas in particular is a hard time for many homeless people. Traditions and goodwill can mean that some families will open their doors and homes to their estranged homeless relatives over Christmas. But this often doesn’t last and they end up back out on the streets once all the festivities are over. The despair they must feel at having been given hope for a short while only for it to be dashed when they are sent back into the bleak winter of January and another year of uncertainty.

Despite all of this though, the people themselves still blow me away. Today I witnessed one couple who are now housed offer support and encouragement to someone who had just become homeless. The community amongst them is strong and they look out for one another, even though life is tough. It reminds me of the community I see in church but which is lacking in so many other places. 

At the end of the day, the people living on the streets are still people. They may have been through many challenges and have not quite landed on their feet yet, but they are people nonetheless. They have stories like you and I do as well as personalities, hobbies and a sense of humour despite all that happens. I know I can’t do much, but I know a God who can, so I turn to him in prayer. I pray that eventually all the wonderful but unfortunate people who use them will one day all be housed and financially secure. If you are someone who prays, will you join me in praying for them?