A good friend, Mark Horvarth, who is based in Los Angeles, created a website to empower homeless people to share their stories and how they ended up living on the streets. Mark has himself experienced homelessness and so understands the challenges and complexities of many people's situations. He didn't call his website "the homeless", "vulnerable people" or indeed "rough sleeping". He called it "Invisible People". And I think he's got it spot on.
For 11 months of the year we walk past some of the most vulnerable people, with the most complex needs, sleeping on our streets. They lie there without basics human needs including shelter, food and healthcare. And the longer they are there, the more difficult it is to help them and bring them back into mainstream society.
Every year we say Christmas is a time for hope. And every Christmas I find myself asking people to think of homeless people all year round, not just at Christmas.
At St Mungo's Broadway our currency is 'hope'. Hope for our homeless clients can come in a variety of ways as I'll explain: an astrology course, move on accommodation or indeed even a beauty treatment. I want to share the accounts of three people, Mark (not the one mentioned above), Tracey and one who has asked to remain anonymous. Their stories touched my heart this year and I'd ask you to think of them this Christmas and thereafter.
At St Mungo's Broadway, we take an approach called 'personalisation'. This means tailoring support for people around their hopes and aspirations for the future. And it is a very powerful thing.
Mark Lockyer, for example, is an actor. He's appeared in a Harry Potter film and for the National Theatre among others. But he had moved between hostels, hospitals and psychiatric services before moving into a St Mungo's Broadway hostel. Staff spoke with him about personalisation and how, should he find something that would aid and benefit his recovery, there was a pot of money available, and all he had to do was ask.
Mark is now in the second year of an astrology course, paid for by the personalisation fund. He has also lost more than two stone and eradicated type two diabetes completely, a rare achievement, all down to eating better and a personal trainer paid for by personalisation. He says: "Initially I had nothing positive in my life and I started to live for my Tuesday evening astrology class. I came into contact with well people who just enjoyed the subject like me and were eager to learn. It was a healthy environment and very important to my early recovery." He adds: "Nothing comes from nothing. I have had to put the hard work in but without personalisation this would not have been possible."
Tracey, 46, has been homeless on and off since she was 18. She started taking drugs to cope with the cold of being on the streets and to numb the pain and depression she felt about being there. She is now doing well at one of our hostels and says: "The staff are my scaffolding and I would fall apart without them". She now takes part in creative writing classes and her poem, Reflection, truly moved me at a recent event. The final two lines communicated her sense of hope:
"There is a life for us out there
And there are people who want to help and care"
The power of personalising services
The final person I'll mention is a lady who spoke at a recent service launch about how she wanted to improve her health. To do so she wanted to go swimming again yet she felt very self conscious about doing so. The answer was a quick trip to the beauty salon, a waxing treatment and voila! Barrier removed, a health outcome achieved and all in a way that not one service provider could ever have guessed at. That's the power of personalising services.
So my hope for this Christmas is that we all remember homeless charities like ours are supporting people all year round. Not just at Christmas. And the people we care about are here with their issues, struggles and, indeed, their hope all year round. Please pay attention in January when the snow coats the streets and the rough sleepers, in July when sleeping rough becomes a little less painful, and when Christmas rolls around again.