Londoner Em*, 44, was homeless over Christmas in 2019 after she returned to the UK after a decade spent living in France.
Big Issue Foundation
Donate to support vendors today
Your gift today will mean Big Issue vendors will get the support they need to progress forward in life. You will be supporting vendors in key areas including housing, finance, mental health and employment.
She told The Big Issue: “I actually stopped celebrating Christmas about 20 years ago. It feels like people are turning the other way. That’s quite painful and you just kind of harden up from that feeling. Humans deserve better. All of us deserve to be counted and valued and cared for.”
Em, who had been sleeping rough two decades previously, spent eight months sofa surfing until she “exhausted all friendships” as she sought support from her local authority to find a place to live.
But as the festive season kicked in she found herself back on the streets so she referred herself to StreetLink – a service running in England and Wales to report rough sleepers to support services.
“I remembered to phone StreetLink and the incredible thing, it was just my luck, was that they told me Crisis’ Christmas shelter was open now and I was very close.
“I went and it was like a step into another world really. I started to get some real support and I had spent months trying to go through the bureaucratic process of registering myself as homeless to get support from the system. They found me a place to sleep and treated me with dignity and respect and support and love. It was just the most beautiful gift ever.”
That step has set Em on a life-changing path. She will be spending Christmas 2021 at her own shared flat and will be volunteering at the local community centre to help people in the same position where she was just two years ago.
“I feel really fortunate that I can choose what I want to do on Christmas Day,” she added.
“I’m going to the local community centre. Every Christmas Day they have a big meal for anybody who wants to come, and I will be there helping out with the meal and making people feel nice. I might even be playing Christmas music on the piano!”
Crisis’ research found different housing and homelessness policies are leading to a higher rate of homelessness in England, citing a better supply of social housing and more inclusive access to homelessness services in devolved nations.
That’s one of the driving factors behind the 22,600 households stuck in B&Bs in England – three times higher than in 2012 – out of 25,000 families and individuals across Britain.
The charity criticised government policies that risk driving more families into homelessness.
In a warning that The Big Issue has also sounded through the Stop Mass Homelessness campaign, Crisis said cuts to Covid-19 support measures like the £20 universal credit increase and the eviction ban risks causing rising homelessness. The charity also warned freezing housing benefit rates also risks pushing families into homelessness.
“These predictions for rising homelessness levels are stark, but with the right government action to end homelessness for all, we can make sure they don’t become a reality,” added Sparkes. “Last year, we saw the difference government action made, helping people off the streets and into emergency accommodation. We need to see all governments act to make sure everyone has a safe and secure home and to help people avoid homelessness before it happens.”
Earlier this week, the Westminster government unveiled £28m in funding to offer rough sleepers accommodation over the winter as Omicron continues to spread as well as to boost vaccinations. Ministers also announced a £316m grant to prevent homelessness, which Big Issue founder Lord John Bird said will “save an avalanche of people from homelessness”.
Announcing the funding, Rough sleeping minister Eddie Hughes said the money will “help thousands of people across England, with councils able to prevent homelessness before it occurs”.
“I was just kind of shuffling around and I don’t know where to go. It was cold and I was really dejected,” she told The Big Issue. “I just found a cafe where you could sort of sit outside and not really draw attention. I felt faint and just exhausted and overwhelmed.