Four years ago when I signed up for my first Crisis Christmas, one of the things I was most apprehensive about was speaking to the homeless guests I was going to come into contact with. What do you talk about to somebody who is homeless? I wondered. Not long into my first shift, my apprehension faded. What you talk about to people who are homeless are exactly the same topics you talk to anyone about: sport, the weather, work, hobbies, news, family. My biggest lesson that first year was that while Crisis’ guests need food, clothes and a shower, for so many of them the opportunity to just chat to somebody is equally important to them.
This makes complete sense, given how society marginalises those experiencing homelessness. A week at a Crisis centre over Christmas may be the only time in the year the guests are treated with respect, made to feel like members of a community, and receive genuine smiles rather than vacant stares. Crisis Christmas is good at providing the support and services guests may need to help them make changes and move forward in their lives. But I know the seemingly insignificant ‘acts of caring’ given by the volunteers also have the potential to make a real difference to how the guests feel about themselves and society at large.