This year we have made a difficult decision. For several years, we’ve distributed the gifts you have generously donated to the Homeless Christmas Shoebox Appeal. Every year during Christmas week we’ve given these beautifully wrapped gift boxes to the people who use our service. This year, after much deliberation, we have decided not to participate. We don’t mean to cause any upset by doing this, but we have had to make this decision to truly adhere to our values. In this blog, I’m going to try and explain why.
It reminds people of the tough times
We believe that by giving someone a box of gifts specifically meant for a homeless person, we’re reminding them of the hardest part of their life at what can be the loneliest time of year.
The items in the shoeboxes are thoughtfully chosen. The people who put together the boxes are incredibly generous, and we know only too well that boxes have cost hard-earned money and taken a lot of effort and time to put together. We also believe that everyone should have something to open on Christmas day, we just don’t want those gifts to remind them about how tough their life is.
We’ve been getting it wrong for years
We have been working with people who are experiencing homelessness for 30 years. That is not a good thing, and we are not celebrating. We shouldn’t need to exist in 2019, yet homelessness is worse than it has been in many years. So, we have changed our approach.
We stopped assuming that people need us to show them how to budget, how to claim benefits, how to access the GP and how to cook. We recognised that not everyone needs – or wants - this support. Of course, some people benefit from it, but many people are perfectly capable of doing this without our help, and just need somewhere to live. Instead, we started focusing on what people want to do with their lives, and what help they might need to get there. Now we ask them what makes people happy and what makes them tick. Rather than focusing on negative experiences and past trauma, we discuss dreams, aspirations, and hopes and plans for the future. We ask people where they want to live, and with whom, and we do our best to make that happen.
In short, we stopped treating people as homeless people and started treating them as people. We started looking forwards rather than backwards. We started coaching, rather than supporting.
We’re trying to change the way we do things. We’re trying to stop reminding people that they’re homeless, and we’re trying to stop talking about the past unless someone wants to discuss it.
For this reason, we have decided that the Homeless Christmas Shoebox Appeal isn’t for us.
Our coaches now help people build support networks in the community, away from the homelessness sector, so they have friends to call on if things get tough in the future. They help people to develop an identity outside of homelessness. They meet people away from the office or their home, so they are not constantly reminded of their engagement with a homelessness service. Our housing officers help people find safe, decent, and affordable housing within the wider community so they can start work or college without worrying about being able to afford the rent. We help people move forward from their experience of homelessness quickly and with dignity.
We are truly grateful to all those who support this project, and also for the many boxes we have distributed in the past. We hope you understand, and we thank you for all your support. The Shoebox Appeal will continue to support people experiencing homelessness. Many of these people will be living in hostels and on the streets, and your generous gifts will be a great benefit to them.