At this time of year we all love to have our friends and families around us. We eat too much, spend too much and turn the heating up high as the temperature outside falls.
But spare a thought for those who do not have these luxuries – or even homes to live in.
Can you imagine what it is like to sleep rough on nights as cold as -12C, as we have seen recently? To struggle without money while crucial support services being cut? Yet we wonder why many homeless people resort to alcohol or drugs to try to dull the pain and the hopelessness.
It is easy to believe the right wing media’s claims of people choosing to live rough. Of beggars making fortunes on the streets. But the reality for many is that unemployment, bankruptcy and repossessions are all on the increase, meaning that the risk of rough sleeping is an issue for many people.
A survey of more than 400 rough sleepers carried out by Sheffield Hallam University revealed the desperate steps taken by many in an attempt to find shelter.
Nearly 30% admitted to committing a “minor crime such as shoplifting or anti-social behaviour” in the hope of being taken into custody for the night.
Unwanted sex has become a way out of homelessness for many. One in seven men and 28% of women had spent a night – or longer – with an unwanted sexual partner simply to put a roof over their heads. That’s in addition to the 20% of women who have resorted to prostitution.
And a fifth of those questioned said they had avoided being given bail or committed “an imprisonable offence with the express purpose of receiving a custodial sentence as a means to resolving their housing problems”.
Crisis, the homeless charity which commissioned the report, describes its findings as “shocking”. Chief executive Leslie Morphy said it was, “desperately sad to see the lengths that people are taking to escape the horrors of homelessness”.
And the situation will get worse as the coalition government’s cuts bite.
An impact equality assessment carried out for the Department of Work and Pensions warned that the cuts will lead to “increases in the number of households with rent arrears, eviction and households presenting themselves as homeless”.
Westminster Council, which accounts for more than a third of all rough sleepers in London, is planning to cut almost a million pounds from help to homeless people over the next two years. And other local authorities will follow suit.
So as the festive period comes to an end, remember that there are many for whom the phrase Merry Christmas is meaningless.
And if you can spare a little money for charities that work to help those who are forced to sleep rough, I’m sure it will be very well spent.