There's something about the cold that I just love. Going outside in the frozen air, wrapped up in a thick coat and scarf and gloves; it's bracing yet refreshing. And then, of course, you get to go back inside where it is warm and cosy. Crank up the heating and cocoon within a solid building.
At this time of year, though, I always think of those who aren't inside, or cannot turn up the temperature.
Many years ago, in my foolish youth, I got into a situation where I had to make it outside overnight. It was this exact time of year; there was frost and ice and snow, and I had no chance of gaining proper shelter. It was very late on a Sunday night when everything for miles was closed. This was a town far away from where I live now, that I didn't know, back when you needed a computer and a cable to connect to the internet. Plus I was out of battery on my brick-of-a-mobile phone, had no access to money, and there were many other extenuating circumstances. I walked as far as I could, for hours into the darkness, but was surrounded by a bitter cold that sunk into the bones and drained the muscles of energy, sapping the life out of the body. Fortunately, when I had reached the point of exhaustion, I found a car that had been involved in a crash. It was all dented and one of the windows was smashed, and it looked like it had rolled over a few times. It clearly wasn't going anywhere. I opened the door, climbed into the back and out of the weather, and tried to sleep for a few hours. In the early hours of the morning I left and never looked back.
I do not claim to have a detailed knowledge of sleeping rough, nor do I expect sympathy or anything of that nature. I am simply sharing my meagre experience as a way of identifying with those who are in the same situation, or worse.
There is support for people trapped outdoors, with the first port-of-call being the local council offices. There are also many charitable organisations, including Crisis, Shelter, and many others, all of whom do good work and put the people they are helping before anything else. If ever there was a need for these types of charities, it is during this time of year.
Homelessness should not be such a predominant issue in a modern, civilised society, yet still it remains. There are countless empty properties and locations where beds could be provided for minimal cost, yet there is and always has been an attitude of firefighting that is applied to homelessness. The real question should not be how to deal with it now, but how to prevent it in the future.
To lose everything must be a truly terrible sensation, and yet the very institutions that seem to cause people to give up their homes are the very ones pushing an agenda of materialism, as long as the payments are kept up. It appears that greed and profit come before compassion and understanding, at least to those on the outside.
Austerity is, at times like these, a necessary evil. The question is not should cuts be made, but where, and if instead some form of revenue could be generated, why is not being? There are properties fit for occupancy that are abandoned or closed. Could councils not create agreements with the owners to allow those without beds to sleep within? Even a mutually beneficial arrangement where the property is renovated in exchange? There is a whole workforce of individuals who spend their days searching for food and money, which is as hard a type of work as I can imagine. Why not, instead of reactive solutions, be proactive and offer jobs and a place to stay?
It transpires that at this moment in time eight individuals hold as much wealth as the poorest 50% of the population of the planet. If those eight, and all the others who appear on the rich lists, applied their business-thinking to issues like homelessness, imagine how much could be achieved? Simply donating funds is not enough: the world needs people to look at things differently.
Perhaps that's why I like the cold. It reminds me of when I had nothing, when I was forced to sleep in an abandoned car. It brings me back. So whenever I turn my thermostat up a degree, or feel the rush of warm air as I open my front door, I feel for those without the heat that nourishes us in winter.