We see elements of homelessness almost every day. Maybe we’ve walked past someone huddled in a shop entrance, noticed a pile of sleeping bags on a street corner, or spoke to someone selling the Big Issue. It’s easy to think of these stereotypical images of homelessness but harder to contemplate the reality of it.

Have you ever considered what homelessness sounds like? What it tastes like? What it feels like?

For the men and women living on our streets, there isn’t one image that defines them. Homelessness is ruthless, non-prejudiced and is often the result of an array of problems; from family breakdowns, addiction, the loss of employment, domestic violence and poor mental health.

While homelessness isn’t just at Christmas, it’s this time of year where it often enters our thoughts. The extreme cold weather reminds us of our safe warm homes, and this family-centered season reminds us what we hold most dear while echoes painfully for those without someone to turn to.

In the UK, homelessness in on the up. It’s estimated there are over 4,500 people sleeping rough every night on UK streets, up from around 1,700 in 2010. It’s debilitating, dangerous and difficult to escape without support. For those suffering with long term homeless their life expectancy can be cut short dramatically – 45 years for a man and just 43 for a woman.

These figures do not include the large number of people classed as hidden homeless. Those sleeping in temporary accommodation, squatting, sofa surfing, sleeping in cars. This number is estimated to be over 320,000.

These statistics are shocking and scary yet cannot be accounted to one single issue. Homelessness is complex and the problem is only exasperated by the lack of affordable housing, lack of mental health support and the lack of infrastructure and opportunity in the poorest areas of the UK.

Everybody’s needs, experiences and stories are different and it’s because of this, since our foundation 30 years ago, Julian House has always striven to put the individual at the heart of what we do.

Julian House was initially set up to offer food and shelter to some of Bath’s most marginalised people – the homeless.  Due to sheer demand this has developed into a regional charity with over 40 different projects, accommodation sites and social enterprises across Bath, Bristol and the South West of the UK. These projects and services address both the symptoms of homelessness and the underlying reasons why men and women are forced on to the streets. We find creative solutions to empower and help them to build sustainable, independent lives., whether that be through moving into their own accommodation, learning new skills, returning to college, volunteering or finding employment.

Due to the complexity of homelessness, our client base has also expanded. We offer support and refuge to women and children escaping from domestic abuse, adults with learning difficulties, people suffering from addiction as well as offering a second chance to ex-offenders, helping them turn their life around and make a positive contribution to society.

The scale of the problem is large, but thanks to the community’s incredible support we’ve been able to make a huge difference to the lives of many. Last year alone, we provided almost 12,000 bed spaces in our emergency hostel accommodation. 73% of the clients in our supported housing moved on to independent living. We helped 22 people secure employment, thanks to our skills training sessions at our Bike Workshops, and provided essential refuge accommodation to 45 individuals or families fleeing domestic abuse and achieved a 72% success rate in reducing re-offending in our criminal justice service.

Behind each statistic, there’s an individual with a real-life story. A story, thanks to your donations and support, we’ve helped change for the better.

Take Clare. As a young single woman, life on the street was tough and terrifying. Imagine having to deal with lewd remarks from passers-by, hunger, the freezing cold, not to mention having a period without proper sanitation or pads. On top of this, Clare was extremely vulnerable to abuse and was targeted and subjected to sexual assault. Struggling to cope with what happened, she turned to drink.

Throughout her time of the streets, Julian House staff tried to support and encourage Clare into our hostel. Eventually she came and from here she slowly began to trust us and open up about her ordeal and other problems she was facing. We helped her address these issues and moved her into our female only house. It was from here she started to thrive. Set on trying to get a job, she secured part-time employment and within six months moved to full-time. She’s now living a much more positive life in a new tenancy which we are hopeful will lead to long-term sustained accommodation.

We rely on members of the public to help us raise much needed funds and awareness so that our projects and services can keep running and expanding to help more people in need. To find out how you can help this year, head to our website: https://www.julianhouse.org.uk/support-us or email me at on jessica.gay@julianhouse.org.uk.

Jessica Gay, Senior Community and Events Fundraiser, Julian House.

Julian House is Bristol University Press’s chosen charity for 2020.