Bah Humbug to Christmas – Guest Opinion Column published in the Gazette & Herald newspaper – December 2013

It is getting more apparent, each year, that the twelve months between each Christmas period are getting horrendously shorter and shorter.

Whilst I can rightly argue that the festive marketing debacle starts earlier and earlier each year, there is still the point that I am obviously getting older and the whole “time flies when you’re having fun” comment really isn’t relevant to someone who has a job in my field of work. And I am definitely, therefore, getting grumpier and grumpier each time it comes around.

And so, as we all not only have to endure the chillier weather but also the annual festive retail hype, it is worth bearing in mind that this is an emotionally depressing time of year for many people.

Mainly because, at Doorway, we are hearing more and more stories of people who are already strapped for cash getting themselves into increasingly alarming levels of debt in order to buy Christmas presents for their children.

It is also worth remembering that many people in our local community will be alone at Christmas, without family and friends, whether they are homeless, struggling to maintain their tenancies or pay their mortgages. This is a very difficult time of year for many of our guests and whilst we try to make things just a little bit easier for them by giving them the extras, like boxes of chocolates or hand knitted hats and gloves, there is nothing that we can do to alleviate the basic loneliness or the financial worries.

Rather surprisingly, last winter we had a couple of people who would rather sleep outdoors in the snow than go into hostels overnight; one who had a private home with a mortgage and claimed no benefits but was unable to afford to turn their heating on, several who struggled to stay warm in tenancies and those who didn’t have enough money to eat properly.

This year already we are hearing stories of people who are having their benefits sanctioned for the next six weeks due to missing an appointment for various reasons including simply misreading a letter sent in the post. I’m really not sure how they are going to be able to cope over the festive period without any benefits whatsoever.

The only guarantee we can provide is that our drop-in doors are open, and we are offering a full support service, fifty two weeks of the year including through the snow and the bitterly cold temperatures that we have been experiencing over the last few years.

But opening each week is no easy task for a small charity in this economic climate. And there is a small team of people who work tirelessly, all year round, in order to ensure that the financial donations are continuously coming into the office from the local community.

One of our major fundraising events will be taking place at the end of January 2014 and involves members of the public spending a very cold night in a churchyard, amongst the gravestones, whilst enduring temperatures below freezing with very little except for warm clothes, a sleeping bag and a cardboard box. Our SleepOuts are deliberately held at the end of January to tie in with Poverty & Homelessness Action Week, organised by Housing Justice, and we have found that we are able to gain maximum publicity due to the ridiculous timing for the coldest weather possible.

Whilst there is much controversy nationally regarding SleepOuts we, at Doorway, argue that whilst we are not able to replicate the realities of sleeping rough, the event is a very effective means of gaining both media and public attention to highlight the fact that homelessness exists at all in rural areas. By sleeping out for a night we can raise the basic awareness and then go on to educate the public in the issues surrounding homelessness on all levels.

So even if you are unable to spare time or money to support a good cause then please consider spending a cold night in a graveyard and support Doorway by highlighting the plight of homelessness this winter.

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