Rethinking Christmas Campaigns: A Call for Transparency and Long-Term Solutions in Homelessness Advocacy

The season of giving is upon us, and with it comes the familiar flurry of charity Christmas campaigns. Traditionally, these campaigns have depicted the stereotypical image of a dishevelled person on a park bench, emphasising the immediate needs of those experiencing homelessness during the festive season. However, a recent shift in focus has emerged, steering away from clichéd portrayals towards a more nuanced understanding of the complex issues surrounding homelessness.

In a candid discussion with individuals who have lived experience of homelessness, several key themes emerged. One striking observation was the recognition that charities are caught in a paradox where they must simultaneously highlight the severity of the issue to secure funding while also acknowledging the capabilities and resilience of those they aim to help. This balancing act often results in negative portrayals, perpetuating the narrative that without charitable support, individuals would be helpless.

The conversation delved into the impact of Christmas-centric campaigns on public perception and self-worth for those receiving support. Participants noted that the emphasis on seasonal giving tends to create a short-term surge in public sympathy, leaving individuals feeling forgotten once the festive season subsides. The cyclical nature of heightened support during the holidays followed by a stark drop in attention during the rest of the year was highlighted as a significant challenge.

A recurring concern was the disconnect between the items featured in charity Christmas wish lists and the actual desires of those in need. The discussion revealed instances where well-intentioned donations, such as hand warmers and long johns, did not align with the preferences or needs of the recipients. This underscored the importance of involving individuals with lived experience in the decision-making process, ensuring that campaigns are both meaningful and effective.

Furthermore, the conversation shed light on the limitations of traditional Christmas campaigns in addressing the broader complexities of homelessness. Participants expressed a desire for campaigns to be more transparent, incorporating the voices of those directly affected and showcasing the year-round challenges faced by individuals experiencing homelessness.

A call for a shift in focus was articulated, with participants suggesting that campaigns should extend beyond the immediate needs of shelter and meals during Christmas. Instead, they proposed a year-round approach that addresses systemic issues such as affordable housing, mental health support, and employment opportunities. By reframing the narrative and presenting a more comprehensive view of homelessness, charities have the potential to foster long-term understanding and engagement from the public.

In conclusion, the dialogue highlighted the need for charity campaigns to evolve, becoming more inclusive, transparent, and focused on sustainable solutions. By embracing a year-round perspective and actively involving those with lived experience, charities can create campaigns that not only raise funds but also challenge stereotypes, foster empathy, and contribute to meaningful, lasting change in the lives of those experiencing homelessness.

You can hear more lived experience insight from the National Advisory Panel here