HOMELESSNESS & WINTER
3 MINUTE READ
Here in Belfast, we LOVE the winter. I mean what’s not to love? There’s snow to have fun in, toasty Poms, cosy fleeces, delicious hot chocolate and warm, roaring fires. In fact, I’ve spent the last few days loving the snow that’s been falling here at Oi HQ so much that I’ve hoped it won’t stop so that we can bring out the sleds and have an old-school snowball fight.
Whatever your favourite part about this season is, I’m sure many of us will agree that there’s nothing better than being wrapped up and cosy as the winter chills surround us. Winter is great - as long as you have what it takes to keep warm.
Unfortunately, for so many people winter doesn’t quite come with the warm, cosy comforts that we love about this season. Instead, winter is filled with many difficulties that the harsh reality of the cold weather brings. While we can enjoy the chilly weather, for those experiencing homelessness it’s not quite the same.
At OutsideIn we’re passionate about helping those experiencing homelessness year-round and we make it our mission to adapt how we help those in need based on the seasons. Every season brings a different need and the winter is no different. In fact, the winter may be one of the most crucial seasons to help those impacted by homelessness. Have you ever gone for a swim in the winter and felt that biting cold reach right to your bones, blue lips, shaking hands and shivering head to toe…? Now, imagine feeling that cold not just for a few moments, but daily with nothing to give you the warm relief you crave. To make matters worse, add isolation, loneliness and hopelessness to that mix and suddenly winter seems pretty unbearable.
Homelessness, tough as it may be on any given day, is known to be that much more difficult during the winter and those who are impacted by it desperately need our help.
Now, while there are shelters, hostels and drop-in centres available for those in need, it’s not always that easy for people experiencing homelessness to get in. These facilities are often over-crowded during the colder months and with homelessness on the rise, many cannot help everyone who knocks on their doors. For those who aren’t able to access these facilities for these reasons and more, they’re often more vulnerable to malnutrition, hypothermia, depression, pneumonia, illness, circulation problems, dehydration, and so much more. Their bodies, just like ours, cannot cope with continuous periods of cold without the proper aids to get them through.
Did you know that in 2018, 78 people died on the streets of the UK due to the harsh winter conditions? And the average age of these individuals was 43 - half the life expectancy of the UK average. This tragic statistic has the potential to grow exponentially if we don’t do anything to help.
In addition to the physical health challenges that those impacted by homelessness face in the winter, there are also ‘invisible’ challenges such as a decline in mental health, depression, anxiety and feelings of loneliness. All of these can be just as, if not even more, debilitating than the physical difficulties.
But, it’s not all doom and gloom and while this is a very real, serious issue, we believe that it is our job to inspire hope and encourage one another to do whatever we can to help. We know that homelessness is a huge issue but together, we can make a difference to it. So, here’s a few very simple ways that absolutely anyone can get involved in that will help those experiencing homelessness throughout the winter. Why not adopt a few of these next time you’re out and about and challenge the people in your community to do the same. If everyone helps one person in need, we could be making a significant impact on many very special lives this winter.
1. Buy a hot drink for someone in need
Remember what I said about the hot chocolate being a winter highlight? Well, one of the reasons why is because when we’re freezing, a hot drink can warm us up from the inside out and significantly reduce the sensation of feeling ice-cold. No wonder we’ve been drinking cups of tea here in the UK for so long!
One of the simplest ways to help someone in need at this time of year is to ask them if you could buy them a hot drink. Ask them what they’d like to make them feel valued and respected and trust me, for the small cost of £3, you’ll make a HUGE difference.
2. Donate warm clothing or sleeping bags
I love camping and each time I go camping, to my surprise, I never get cold in my sleeping bag. Did you know that sleeping bags are designed to keep the body protected from very harsh weather conditions? Combine that with a big puffer coat and you’ll easily have yourself a warm, toasty night - no matter what the weather forecast says.
Here’s my challenge to you - over the next week have a look at all those coats in your storage cupboard that you’ve told yourself for ages that you’ll absolutely wear…but never actually do. Why not donate one of these to someone in need? And while you’re at it, if you have a spare sleeping bag to give, give that too. You won’t believe the difference these two items can make to someone who has nothing.
3. Give someone a NEW pair of thick winter socks
We may not give them much thought, but a pair of thick, warm socks often create the difference between unbearable cold and toasty feet. Did you know that our heads and our feet are the two places where we lose the most heat? Well, for someone experiencing homelessness keeping these two areas of the body warm is crucial for survival.
So many foot problems can be caused from a lack of good quality socks and when you’re living on the streets, you often have to survive off one, worn-out pair. Add wet weather to that equation and it doesn’t look good. Giving someone some brand-new, thick and good quality socks can help them in more ways than you know. If you’re at a loss of where to get them, we have a range of socks that have been designed with feedback from our charity partners to make sure that they provide the adequate protection and comfort for those experiencing homelessness. A fresh pair of socks goes a very, very long way.
4. Stop to have a conversation
Winter can be gloomy, especially when it’s nothing but grey skies, but a good conversation and some time spent with those we love can give us that bit of warmth to turn those winter frowns upside down. But for those who are rough sleeping, conversation is pretty scarce. However, it might be exactly the boost that someone needs to get them through the dreary weather.
A simple 10-15 minute conversation with someone might make things a bit more bearable because it shows someone that they’re seen, acknowledged and valued. A little chat costs us absolutely nothing but the impact it has can mean everything to someone who needs to be reminded that they are worth our time.
5. Consider volunteering at a local charity, street team or soup kitchen
Hostels, residential centres, soup kitchens, charities, street teams and other amazing organisations are under enormous pressure as covid continues to wreak havoc on their staff numbers. They are always looking out for volunteers to help ease their load, and just a few hours a week could mean the world to them and allow them to help more people in need.
I highly encourage you to consider offering a few hours of your time to a local homeless charity or organisation. By doing so, you will not only honour the heroic staff who may need a hand, but you’ll get to meet some amazing people too.
So, there you have it - our winter guide to helping homelessness! Sure winter can be tough BUT, if we all pull together, we can make life a tiny bit easier for those who need that helping hand most during this time of year!