Christmas can be a difficult time for some, but when you're living on the streets, it's particularly painful. "It's a very difficult time for people," says Wanda Mulholland, spokesperson for the Burnaby Task Force on Homelessness.
"Some who are still connected with family will try to unite with them at Christmas. If they have street friends or family, they will try to connect with them. Many have no one and are completely isolated at Christmas. They just hibernate to get through those extremely difficult days."
The task force includes a wide range of non-profit and government agencies, all dedicated to working together to address homelessness, and Mulholland's been involved since its inception in 2005.
The weather can also make things hard on the homeless, and holiday hours mean many businesses or public venues are closed.
"It's impossible to access washrooms or public spaces for long periods of time, so people are forced to keep moving, and the weather is difficult," Mulholland says.
Christmas is also taxing because it's a time when most people reflect on the things and people that are important to them, she adds.
"For people who are homeless, if they are disconnected from those people, it's a difficult, emotional time. Christmas is a family time and can bring up lots of difficult memories and remind people of significant losses in their lives. No one chose that their goal in life was to become homeless, and when that's the case, times like Christmas make it especially difficult," Mulholland says. "It's also difficult because so much of the focus is giving and presents and material wealth and what society thinks is important to be a happy person. When you are homeless without the basic necessities to function, the contrast is extremely great."
Mulholland estimates there are 250 to 300 homeless people in Burnaby, and at Christmas, the only place they can go is the extreme weather shelter, run out of the Westminster Bible Chapel in Burnaby, but that's a weather-dependent option. There is no year-round shelter in Burnaby, and the extreme weather shelter only opens when it's cold or wet enough outside to be a threat to human health.
There are events for homeless people in the weeks leading up to Christmas, but nothing the day of, as far as that Mulholland is aware. Anton's Pasta Bar does an annual Christmas Eve dinner for the less fortunate, but it's not a walk-in event; people need to be signed up ahead of time.
The task force is always looking for donations to help keep Burnaby's homeless warm, dry and fed through the holidays. High demand items include coats, boots, new underwear for both men and women and non-perishable, nutritious food that's soft enough for people with poor teeth.
To donate, drop off items at the Progressive Housing Society office, but call ahead to make sure they are open: 604-522-9669 ext. 315. The Southeast Community Police Office, at 7191 Arcola Way, also accepts donations for the homeless.
For more information or to get involved in local efforts to help the homeless, see the task force's website at www. burnabyhomelesstaskforce.org.