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Ho-Ho-Homeless For The Holidays

Spirit for the season can be near impossible to muster when every brain cell is busy wrestling with worry. Worry over where you and your children are going to rest your heads once the silver and gold of the holidays has tarnished, worry over balancing the decision of choosing appropriate housing and sacrificing your food budget or settling into below standard accommodations with fuller dinner plates, and even worry of finding a job in a city where the unemployment rate is higher than your debts and university educated citizens are fighting over minimum wage positions like most everyone else. For a person finding themselves without a permanent roof to colour their children’s imagination with visions of Rudolph tripping over a string of twinkling lights, most would rather blink into hibernation and have the entire December shenanigans nothing but a blip in their past they pray won’t be repeated the following year.
For those Grinchy folks we YWCA staffers have a solution…

Glue a Santa beard to their chins and over-sized elf ears to their heads in their sleep?

Nah, but the visual is far more entertaining to me than it probably should be!
Instead we amp up the already pumped season to remind them that just because their life is a hopscotch field from where you want it to be, this doesn’t mean Holiday cheer is a candy cane length too far from their grasp.  
Items on the list for mission “Inject Holiday Enthusiasm”: Over-decorating the house with positively anything containing mass amounts of glitter, Santa, holiday greetings, hand-crafted snowflakes more perfect than found in nature, plus a wind-up – nearly driving you out of your mind – carol-singing snow globe – CHECK. Crafting beautiful hand-made Christmas cards for family and friends – CHECK. Erecting a tree dripping in lights, colorful ornaments and candy canes pilfered before the following day – CHECK. Chowing down on a button-popping, calorie boosting, holiday inspired feast – CHECK. Not to mention, along with all the holiday overload, was a visit from the big guy in red, Santa himself, taking a break from his yearly preparations to sit and read to the kids before tackling the all-important wish list.
Much better than waiting in line at a stuffy, packed elbow to elbow mall, and can still plaster a smile on the face of any child hoping they skirted the “Naughty” list.
Being in the shelter, on the naughty list or not, by no means denotes a free ride no matter the time of year. Ask any guest who has crossed our doors and they will have no qualms about telling you that taking that step across the threshold in a reach for help was one of the hardest decisions they ever made. For us lucky staff, the holidays gives us a chance to remind these strength-building ladies that making that leap doesn’t stamp them as a cast-off until they re-establish a foothold back into the society the feel they stepped out of. 
Alternatively, being within the shelter is a time to pause, reflect, establish a simple and manageable plan, and have the breathing room to enact said plan with a measure of dignity. Doing this while everyone is sticking season’s greetings into every call while telling you the rental you really wanted has already been rented, is tantamount to a helpful hand across an icy road before they push you face first into a snow drift, and for many, it occurs again and again. Something hard to watch when you spend your shifts trying to keep up everyone’s drowning moods and erase negative thoughts of letting down family.
Just because you’re homeless, most assume this means you have zero family or loved ones you hoped to buy the perfect gift that tells them you pay attention to their wants and needs, and took your time in landing on a decision you wrap and anticipate them unveiling. Far from reality. Most times that family doesn’t have the means or accommodations to set another up, but they still gather for a yarn around the tree, setting up a homeless person for the embarrassing moment when presents are being circulated by everyone else but you. Unfortunately, the “perfect gift” tends to come tethered to a less-than-perfect price tag you’d swear the cash register crafted out of spite. When you have rent and moving expenses to consider, settling for something smaller or homemade is the sensible choice.
As a kid your dread grew resentful, crossed arms when you found the sweater-sized wrapped box beneath the tree. As an adult that feeling only duplicates depending on the gift-giver. In shelter, we like to have those boxes contain something useful yet still wanted. A plush house coat with matching slippers, cozy PJ’s for cold nights, winter gear to hug old man winter without the frostbite…anything a woman or child would open and gasp in delight instead of disguised disgust is what we strive to gift when possible.
Accessing community resources gets you necessities; A few warm items on your back, hygiene products to look your best, and some food to fill your tummy. Most times room for anything else is not sought after when those necessities are no longer a worry, but the YWCA isn’t all about providing strictly needs. We are about making women and their families their best and empowering them to face the world with open eyes and bolstered confidence in the success their hard work will lead them to.
To do this, a person needs to feel worthy of receiving that special something. Contrary to belief, it doesn’t take a lot to accomplish. A sparkly pair of earrings, a fashionable scarf, a book they were waiting to delve into, anything to fortify their spirits and inspire motivation. Add a gift that spreads a wide-toothed grin on their kids face and you have a person ready to scrape away the outer shell weighing them down to expose the women equipped to lift a confident chin, and obtain the next steps needed to regain a self-sufficient existence.
Times of the year like this tend to remind people of loved ones, especially those they lost who will miss out on the celebration. Some don’t possess the “This one year…” stories to recite over hot cocoa and a smile to regale the crowd with, having never possessed the childhood to foster such laughter-evoking tales. In the business of recreation, we do our utmost to reset that notion, focus on moving forward, and color a new tradition filled with a drive to multiply joy.
Whatever the guest celebrates during the holidays, no matter the Bahumbug in their bonnets, we endeavor to wedge a glitter-dripping fissure into a time when some would think taking a breath to celebrate would be counterproductive, when really it’s the fuel to keep going.
Happy Holidays from everyone at the YWCA, including our shelter guests, ones swimming in the deep-end filled to their Santa hats with tinsel, and even more so from the ones needing a little more convincing that the season is what you make of it and not dependent on the roof over your head.

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