In 2018 Carl Simpson booked 14 rooms in a hotel with the aim of getting more than 20 people off the streets for Christmas. Everything looked good to go, and Simpson told the folk he was trying to help what he’d done. But then he received an unexpected phone call that broke his heart.
Being homeless is incredibly tough at any time of year. But having nowhere to go at Christmas can be particularly difficult. Living out on the cold streets or in soulless temporary accommodation while everybody else celebrates with family and friends must be exceptionally hard.
In the United States, it’s estimated that there were in excess of 500,000 individuals classed as homeless on any given night in 2017. And it’s a plight that affects many people across the ocean in the United Kingdom as well. According to U.K. government figures, thousands slept on the nation’s streets each night during 2017.
However, that figure doesn’t take into account statutory homelessness – in other words, those people local authorities are providing temporary shelter for as they have nowhere else to go. Nor does it consider the “hidden” homeless, who include individuals who might not have approached official bodies or do not qualify for assistance.
The hidden homeless may not be sleeping rough, but they don’t have any security when it comes to housing. Instead, they perhaps live in squats, scrape enough cash for hostels or live in “concealed housing,” a term that refers to those who sleep on floors in the homes of loved ones, for instance.
While there are charities that aim to help the homeless all year round, efforts to assist the most needy people in society often increase over Christmas. As the season of goodwill to all gets underway, kind-hearted souls tend to look around them to see what they can do for others.
But while the desire to help may be there, some people simply don’t know where to start. Citing a poll from YouGov, Crisis – a U.K.-based charity that helps homeless people – revealed in 2018 that 61 per cent of the British public felt “angry, upset or frustrated” about homelessness in their country. However, an even larger proportion said they aren’t sure how to react when they encounter a homeless person.
One of the easiest ways to help the homeless is simply to talk to them. People living on the streets might well feel exiled from society. As a result, a friendly chat and a smiling face can be invaluable to someone who’s more used to being shunned or perhaps even abused.
Liam Geraghty works as a writer for The Big Issue. The U.K.-based magazine creates employment for homeless people. As a result, its staff understand the struggles facing those on the streets and just how much good a single conversation can do.
Speaking to The Independent in December 2018, Geraghty explained, “Homelessness puts an enormous strain on mental health with long hours of loneliness, isolation and sleep deprivation. The first way to help is [a] simple one – speak up! A warm greeting, some simple small talk or even just asking a personal question can make all the difference.”
Another way to help the homeless is to give what you can. That could involve handing over your spare change to a person on the street or, if you feel more comfortable with it, donating to an appropriate charity. Alternatively, gifts of food and hot drinks will surely be welcomed.
Over the winter months, warm clothing is also invaluable. Donating clothes including thermals, gloves, scarves and hats might help to save a life when temperatures drop. You could have some items lying around the house that you no longer need anymore. So what better excuse for a clear out?
Moreover, just as valuable as your money, conversation and clothes is your time. And there are usually plenty of opportunities to do volunteer work to assist the homeless at Christmas. Many charities often require help over the festive period, whether that’s helping out at a soup kitchen or providing outreach services.
Alternatively, many organizations run special campaigns over the holidays. One such fundraiser is fronted by homelessness charity Shelter. Known as the Sleep Walk, participants take part in a six-mile night-time walk through London in order to raise money for the homeless at Christmas.
The first Sleep Walk was staged in December 2018, one year after Shelter announced that more than 125,000 children would be homeless on Christmas Day 2017 in the U.K. The report added that there had been more homeless children in the country in 2017 than over the previous ten years, with an estimated 140 families falling into homelessness every day.
Announcing the Sleep Walk in October 2018, Shelter chief executive Polly Neate told Female First, “No one should have to wake up without a home on Christmas Day, or any day. It doesn’t have to be like this. Together, we can work towards a future where every child wakes up in a safe and secure home on Christmas morning.”
While the Sleep Walk was a London-centric fundraiser, there were many similar initiatives taking places across the U.K. Each year, Crisis runs its Crisis at Christmas campaign which welcomes close to 5,000 guests to 15 locations where they receive shelter, company and warm meals.
And it isn’t just large charities such as Shelter and Crisis that are doing their bit for the homeless over Christmas. Smaller organizations all across the U.K. also organize fundraisers and events to help the needy in their corner of the country. And one such endeavor is the Raise the Roof Homeless Project.
Based in Hull, a city in northern England, the Raise The Roof Homeless Project was founded by café proprietor Carl Simpson. The initiative came about after Simpson learned that a series of homeless people in his city had died over the Christmas period in 2016 – with a number of them committing suicide.
The news broke Simpson’s heart. As a result, he decided to do something that might prevent any more deaths the following year. Perhaps if he could provide homeless people with shelter over Christmas, he could give them some hope and prevent them spiraling into a deep depression.
In November 2017 Simpson told the Hull Daily Mail, “Christmas is the worst period for suicide… Some people have to decide whether to feed their families, put on the heating or pay the rent. Most of the time, it’s the rent that gets left behind, and people get evicted at this time of year.”
Moreover, Simpson had helped the homeless before. In 2016 he ran a Christmas Eve soup kitchen, and he said the experience had moved him. Speaking of the many people who attended, he said, “It was heartbreaking to know that they were waking up Christmas Day morning on their own.”
His own experience of working with the homeless, coupled with the deaths that had occurred during the previous Christmas period, led Simpson to launch the Raise The Roof Homeless Project in 2017. He hoped to get people in from the cold by providing them with a hotel room, a roast dinner and extra luxuries such as a haircut and clean clothes.
In order to raise funds for the event, Simpson had turned to the web. He set up a GoFundMe page where people could donate money towards the event. And he had little doubt that the people of Hull would deliver. That’s because he’d experienced their generosity before.
When Simpson’s wife Maria became critically ill in 2015 and was told she would be dead within a week, the community in Hull helped to arrange their wedding, providing a dress, food and decorations. Thankfully, after many months in hospital, Maria began to recover. But her husband has never forgotten the kindness of the local community.
Inspired by this generosity of spirit, Simpson began working with the homeless. And now that he needed the people of Hull’s help once more, they didn’t disappoint. An impressive £2,020 was raised via GoFundMe, enabling the Raise The Roof Homeless Project to put 28 people up in a hotel during the Christmas period in 2017.
In Simpson’s eyes, the project had been a complete success. In November 2018 he told the Hull Daily Mail, “After the stay, [they] were so grateful that some gave staff gifts of the very little they had, and one man asked if he could Hoover the hotel rooms to show his appreciation.”
And what’s more, Simpson was hopeful that by stepping in at such a poignant time of year, his project’s actions might have had a lasting impact. “We even had long-term rough sleepers change their mind about sleeping on the street who ended up looking for supported accommodation,” he revealed
With that in mind, Simpson didn’t hesitate in running the Raise The Roof Homeless Project again the following year. For Christmas 2018, the Good Samaritan aimed to once more place homeless people in a hotel on December 24 and 25 while also providing them with food and clothes.
After fundraising efforts, Raise The Roof reportedly had enough money to book 14 twin rooms for 28 people at Hull’s Royal Hotel. In the days before Christmas, however, the hotel allegedly canceled the booking. And what’s more, Simpson said that they didn’t even offer an excuse for doing so.
According to Simpson, he’d told staff at the Royal that the rooms were intended for homeless people when he’d booked. “They were quite happy with it and even got us a 20 percent discount,” the campaigner revealed. “But then out of the blue, I got a phone call to say that they had canceled the booking and that they would refund us.”
Disappointed and confused, Simpson probed for more answers. “I asked them what the reason was, and they said that they weren’t sure and that they would get back to us,” he revealed. “The phone went on hold, and then they said they couldn’t tell me. They didn’t seem bothered at all.”
While Simpson said he had been promised a full refund on the rooms, with just days to go before Christmas, he was worried that the people he’d tried to help would be left out on the streets as a result of the cancelation. “We are going to have to break this news to them, and it’s heartbreaking,” he said. “Having somewhere to sleep at Christmas can be the difference between life and death.”
At first, the Royal Hotel declined to comment on the allegations when approached by the press. The BBC later reported that the hotel had said it canceled the reservations when it allegedly heard that Raise the Roof’s booking at a local Ibis hotel the previous Christmas had led to damaged rooms. The project and the Ibis both refuted these claims, however.
Hayley Harrington, director at the Raise the Roof project, subsequently accused the Royal of “discrimination” during an interview with CNN, and the hotel experienced a public backlash. Its TripAdvisor page received a deluge of scathing reviews, for instance, and the hotel chose to delete its Facebook page.
Taking to Twitter instead, Rachel Mantell wrote, “I assume everyone is boycotting @RoyalHotelHull? They deserve to lose their regular bookings from Hull city fans, parents coming to graduations etc. Canceling a reservation for homeless people with so little notice, no explanation and not offering immediate refund – unacceptable.”
Elsewhere, other people chose to show their support for the Raise The Roof project by donating on GoFundMe. The page eventually raised more than $7,700 for the homeless, in fact, while other donations brought the total to $12,900. But in the end, Simpson and his team didn’t have to spend a penny on accommodation.
That’s because the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel in Hull stepped in, providing rooms for nearly 30 homeless people on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day completely free of charge. At the time, Simpson told the Hull Daily Mail that the chain’s generous offer was a “Christmas miracle.”
And the stressful experience hasn’t put Simpson off helping the homeless in the future. In fact, he vowed to use the money he’d raised to buy a food van that could be used to cook for the homeless and the needy. In order to keep the van running, he said he’d turn his existing café into a non-profit that would also function under the Raise The Roof banner.
So, thanks to Simpson’s commitment, the future looks just that little bit brighter for the homeless people of Hull. But rather than taking the credit for Raise The Roof Homeless Project’s achievements, Simpson instead expressed his gratitude to the public. “Thank you all for your support, we can’t do this without you,” a post on the organization’s Facebook page read in January 2019.