The Christmas season is in full swing! Mere moments after the last child was tucked into bed after a night of trick or treat, did the bells start jingling and the undying holiday anthems start playing. This joyous occasion signals us all to reconnect with family, buy gifts, stuff our faces and wrap up in the warmth of our covers during the harsh winter months. But what happens to those of us not so fortunate to have those familial ties and the blessing of a safe place to call home at night?

It is estimated that this year alone 22,000 young people will be facing homelessness this Christmas – many of these young people will also be estranged from their families.

When you become estranged from your family, it can make celebrating this festive season which is so heavily focussed on family a difficult period. As thoughts arise about how the day will be spent. The isolation brought about by homelessness and family estrangement can lead to the development or exacerbation of mental health issues. With this in mind, it is important that support networks and relationships are formed with loved ones to help them through these difficult times.

It was during the Halloween-Christmas switch, almost a year after I had been initially made homeless, that I was first introduced to the concept of a ‘Found Family’, or as some call it, a ‘Chosen Family’. These are the people you choose to let into your lives to provide love, support and stability where it’s missing. These people usually are the ones that understand you most and have supported through the difficult times. The beauty of it all being that the members of your Found Family can be absolutely anyone you want. For me they include my sisters, friends I grew up with, those who have had similar family challenges, and Black and Queer people who I kiki with.

Cultivating a loving and supportive community for yourself can be truly life-changing, they become a safe space where you can grow and truly be yourself. One of the best things about having a Found Family is that you can start your own traditions. Every year me and my siblings gather together for our own little sibling Christmas, the actual day I then spend with my best friend and her family. It wasn’t easy to get to this point. There was a time when I hated Christmas for all the things that it signified. Before I had got to the point where I could celebrate Christmas with the people I loved, the constant advertisements of the season to be jolly felt like a never-ending gut punch. I would hear the whistling notes of ‘All I Want for Christmas Is You’ playing, and I was ready to spit the words ‘bah humbug’ out like venom.

It wasn’t until my friend invited me to spend Christmas with her that I realised that Christmas isn’t a celebration only reserved for the people you are biologically tied to.

That simple invitation from my family changed my outlook on what family means, and allowed me to then start my own Found Family and traditions. I encourage you to do the same, be it starting your own Found Family traditions or inviting a friend over for Christmas to let them know that they are loved and valued too. Though some of you may be unable to do so, a simple call checking on your friends who are spending the day alone or away from family goes a long way. None of this is to say that we can solve the issue of youth homelessness by just inviting a friend over for Christmas dinner, but it can make this time of year just that bit easier for those going through a rough time. If you want good karma points for the New Year then this is a good way to start!

Written by: Dale Taylor-Gentles

If you or anyone you know is homeless or at risk, then do contact Centrepoint Helpline on the number 0808 800 0661 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm), or visit their website at http://www.centrepoint.org.uk. They offer free advice and support for 16 – 25-year olds.

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