Christmas is about spreading the joy. But this shouldn't just be limited to your family and friends. That's easy and you also feel the positive repercussions when you do something for someone close to you. It's harder being selfless for a stranger - you don't see how you have impacted them and the joy you have given. Often, we do thing for others, and their gratitude and joy is as good as receiving a present yourself. (I do this a lot because I love making others happy, but I rarely do it for strangers and I'm trying to work on that). Do something good for a stranger, even better, someone who clearly seems to be struggling.
I don't like the idea of 'giving back', why does there always have to be a quid-pro-quo when giving? How about, just giving, without expecting anything in return. Maybe not even gratitude. That seems truly altruistic to me.
My sister told me a week ago that she wanted to do something 'good' around Christmas but didn't know what or how. Luckily I had an answer.
Two friends of mine recently organised a film screening in a local community centre on the subject of the housing crisis and homelessness. Families are being evicted and given next to no time to find a new home or are unable to afford the move or increased rent. It can happen to anyone. Families who have worked every day of their life.
The housing crisis is forcing more and more people into homelessness across the UK. The situation in London, where the cost of housing is double the average for England, is particularly bad; each week around 60 people are made homeless.
The screening was of the documentary HALF WAY by Daisy-May Hudson on her first hand experience of becoming homeless when finishing her degree at Manchester University. It was quite literally breath taking. Watch the trailer.
HALF WAY is an immersive feature documentary chronicling the experience of a homeless family living half way between homes. Told through the eyes of Daisy, as daughter and filmmaker, it offers exclusive access into both the lived realities and mental deterioration of a family living as hidden homeless during Britain’s exploding housing crisis. In Daisy's words:
"Homeless people live on the street, beg for small change at cash points and try to flog you a copy of the Big Issue you didn’t want. That’s what I thought before last June, when I became homeless myself, as my family and I got chucked out of our home.
I don't fit the stereotype, striding into work every morning with my fur coat, red lipstick and sassitude. I'd also like to think I don't fit in at the dull, stale hostel I wake up in and walk out of every morning. When I strut into work I’m one person and when I fall asleep in the same bed as my 14-year-old sister every night, I’m an entirely different one. Hidden homelessness is a strange struggle between wanting to seem normal on the outside and dealing with the daily anxieties of living without a home on the inside."
The money raised went to No Second Night Out, a homeless charity.
Here's how you can help:
Either donate, or if you want to take a more active role or don't have the money to spare, get involved by volunteering or let a 'rough sleeper' know about the organisation. Either contact them yourself or tell them who to call to make sure they don't spend a second night out. All the numbers and links are here. The lines are open 24/7 even over Christmas and New Years.
Just stop next time you see a homeless person and tell them to get in touch with No Second Night Out! Helping a stranger couldn't be easier!
As I already said, the documentary was extraordinary, and we were lucky enough to have Daisy there herself, so we could talk to her afterwards. She has received a lot of press for her film including interviews with The Gardian, Dazed Digital and the BBC. (Click on each for links).
People tell me and remind me that I have led a charmed life, and I agree, I have. But it takes a documentary like this to highlight how true that is. I compare my perception of my charmed life to a neighbour or a friend. Or the extremes of people living in war stricken and starving parts of the world, but this documentary showed me how off my perception is. Being homeless can hit anyone. Even in the UK, and with the property marker being what it is, it is actually more likely to hit unassuming families in the UK who never imagined they would end up in a situation like this.
Talking to Daisy afterwards the first thing I had to say to her was what an incredible sister she is. As the cameraman we, the audience, don't see Daisy at all. Instead her mother and sister are the stars of the film. Her mother communicates her sufferings and struggles, of being the mother who so desperately wants to provide for her daughters, but is unable to. She has worked all her life to put food on the table and a roof over her family's head but was unable to when rent prices increased as landlords demanded more to increase profit margins and keep up with dizzying London house prices. Others' personal loss be damned in the face of their financial gain. The landlords alone cannot be blamed, as Daisy explains, it is a systemic problem of England's ludicrous property prices. Added to that, the faceless, emotionless council rehousing system - once evicted you are caught in this system without the means to pull yourself out.
It's like being trapped at the bottom of a well and you are at the mercy of whoever may come past and notice you, and then whether they feel like pulling you out. They might think better of it when they realise that you're quite heavy and it's hard to pull you out. It doesn't ultimately affect the passer by whether he helps you or not. Your fault for falling down the well in the first place really, isn't it?
It's precisely this stigma that needs to be eradicated. Most of us assume homeless people have ended up there by some fault of their own. Alcohol, drugs, not working hard enough. Ultimately, their fault. Daisy's mother worked everyday of her life. Daisy herself was at university mid dissertation when she had to rush home and pack up her life because her family was being evicted.
Daisy doesn't mention what a critical stage in her life she was at in her documentary, apart from a snippet of her graduation ceremony at the very beginning. Her struggles are unimportant to her compared to her mother's and sister's. She is one of the least self-involved people I have ever met and her selflessness and instinctual protection of her family is staggering. She instead priorities her 14 year old sister who is about to embark on her GCSEs and needs the emotional stability of a home. More to the point, one that will allow her to stay at the same school rather than move across England. Daisy's difficulties are irreverent to her in the face of those of her sister and mother.
The real star of the show, I would say, is Daisy's sister. Her initial naivety at their situation and then almost emotionless acceptance that this is the card life has dealt them. No use dwelling or talking about it unnecessarily. She also manages to lighten the mood at times by joking around in the midst of such a hard-hitting and moving documentary. It strikes the perfect balance.
I cannot even begin to describe how much you have to watch this film.