Homelessness is a bleak predicament for people of all ages, at any time of year.
But for a young person to be faced with the prospect of sleeping rough on the streets at Christmas is particularly tough, said Sarah Gregory, programme manager at the Depaul UK charity in Sheffield.
“For a young person any time is awful, but at Christmas it’s particularly hard. Everything you see around you, and television, is full of positive family images.
“It’s very difficult to find yourself with nowhere to be and potentially no-one around you to support you, which is what we provide.”
Last month, Depaul began operating a new service called Nightstop South Yorkshire, which is based on Eyre Street in Sheffield city centre.
It gives young people emergency accommodation to provide another option for those who face sleeping on the streets, or in other unsafe places.
And, starting this week and throughout the Advent period, the charity is running a festive campaign which is being backed by the Sheffield Telegraph.
Residents in the city are being asked to take part in the Advent Box Challenge, by collecting 24 essential items for an overnight stay that will be given to the charity’s users - vulnerable people aged 16 to 25.
Items ranging from shampoo and shower gel to clean socks and nightwear are being gratefully accepted.
“They are very ordinary - things that we might take for granted but might make a massive difference to others,” said Sarah.
The Sheffield service was the 34th member of Depaul UK’s Nightstop network which covers much of the UK.
At each service, trained and vetted volunteer hosts provide a room, an evening meal and a listening ear to a young homeless person for a night at a time in their own home.
Nightstop, launched in the city with a £200,000 grant from the People’s Postcode Lottery, works with partner agencies including Sheffield Council.
“The council provides a range of services for people who find themselves homeless,” said Sarah.
“The surveys they have done indicate that numbers of homeless people are falling.
“However, there are still people who need that level of support.”
There are no special reasons for falling on hard times at Christmas, Sarah emphasised.
“The problems are the same as most times. There might be a relationship breakdown, or families get to a situation where they feel that there needs to be a change in arrangements.
“The situation they find themselves in can’t continue and it comes to pass that people are asked to leave family homes.
“They are people that can find themselves homeless.
“Sometimes when they first find themselves homeless they have run out of emergency options - we give people another option.”
But she admitted that, despite it being their daily work, staff and volunteers can’t help but be moved by people’s experiences.
“It’s extraordinarily sad that people need our services.”
Nightstop also offers help to move into supported accommodation.
“We don’t want to be a sticking plaster for one night, we want to help people with longer-term solutions,” said Sarah.
Beds for the night will potentially even be available on Christmas Day itself, depending on the availability of helpers.
At least one host is available on most nights, but the charity is keen to recruit more and increase its capacity.
“It’s difficult when people have their own families and Christmas plans to use a spare room.
“But we’re discussing it at the moment, and we’re hopeful we will be able to offer something.”
To take part in the Advent Box Challenge, people should collect 24 essential items during December from the list below:
New hair bobbles
New hair brushes
New slippers/slipper socks
Small 2017 diaries
Nightstop says some guests arrive with little more than the clothes they stand up in.
Manager Amy Smith said: “Many young people who come to Nightstop do so because their parents or carers are no longer willing or able to accommodate them. Some simply don’t have the essential items that we take for granted.
“By working together we can make a tough time a little bit easier for young people facing homelessness this Christmas.”
Boxes can be dropped off at the Depaul offices at 176 Eyre Street in Sheffield city centre.
Call 07918 904661 or email nightstopSY@depaulcharity.org.uk to find out more, or for details about volunteering for Nightstop as a host or driver.