Homeless at Christmas: ‘The kids believe Santa’s coming, just not by the chimney’

The festive spirit can be in short supply on the streets but many who find themselves homeless still go out of their way to make it a special time

Brandie Osborne, 44, Seattle

In seven years of being homeless, Ive never had my own Christmas tree. Before I got this one Id been saying to my boyfriend, It sucks, I just dont feel in the holiday spirit. I grew up with my grandparents and everything was always decorated to the nines. Our tree looked like Martha Stewarts, a real showpiece. My daughter was brought up the same way, with lots of presents and a big Christmas dinner.


I havent had any of that stuff for a long time. I became homeless because my fiance at the time got injured at work and we didnt have any savings. Slowly but surely we couldnt pay our bills and everything concaved on us. I sent my daughter to live with a friend of the family, but my fiance and I ended up living in our car before it got repossessed. I actually had a lot of sentimental Christmas ornaments handed down but could no longer afford storage and lost them along with most of my belongings.

This Christmas I just really wanted something to make me feel good and make other people smile. Then the other day I was walking back from the laundromat with a neighbor, pushing my grocery cart full of clothes, and I saw this tree leaning up against a building with a big sign that said, Free live tree. I straightaway picked it up, put it over my shoulders and carried it home.

A Christmas tree at Brandie Osbornes camp. Photograph: Annabel Clark for the Guardian

My boyfriend wants to just put it in a milk crate with a paper bag, but Im going to make a proper stand for it. I have some fake Christmas presents that Ill put under it. And if I can somehow manage to make about $10, I can get four strings of battery-operated lights to put around it. After Christmas Ill plant it and hopefully in 40 years the Jungle will still be here and I wont, but Ill come back to visit and the tree will be big and tall.

Janice Mack, 62, Portland

Janice Mack, 62, at the non-profit cafe Sisters of the Road in Portland. Photograph: Annabel Clark for the Guardian

A long time ago my dad told me that there aint no white man coming down the chimney bringing me anything. So my belief in Christmas is pretty different to most peoples. I do celebrate Kwanzaa, which involves doing something positive every day between Christmas and New Year. Its more spiritual than the fictitious Santa Claus thing to me.

I grew up in Portland but spent most of my life in Louisiana. I had my own apartment and until three years ago worked as a truck driver. For Christmas, Id spend it with my daughters and grandkids and wed have a meal and do presents. I came back to Portland this August as I enjoy the weather and want to retire here. I thought there would be subsidized housing for people my age, but its not that way. Its so sad to me that at 62 I cant find anywhere to rent that will accept my income. Studio apartments are going for between $1,500 and $2,400 and thats ridiculous to me.

Its my first time, and my first Christmas, homeless. Im in a womens shelter for now. Most people dont have the Christmas spirit here; the reality of life just isnt happy.

Mark Rodriguez, 62, Portland

Mark Rodriguez at the office of the homeless advocacy newspaper Street Roots, which he sells in Portland. Photograph: Annabel Clark for the Guardian

I recently met someone and we fell totally, incredibly in love and decided to spend Christmas together. Id saved some cash and the plan was to spend a couple of days in a nice room in a motel we frequent once in a while. Wed have a bathtub and take bubble baths and just be real human beings with all the amenities of life that most people take for granted. I was going to surprise him and take him on one of those riverboat cruises they do here. I was so excited.

Hes been all over the world and knows his way around. We talked about going to New York and then to London after. But he has a terrible heroin addiction.

Unfortunately our plans fell through. Typical Christmas, hey? Im well-seasoned though and not going to let that get me down. Im grateful for my before-Christmas gift it feels so good to be in love with somebody. To have that rush of adrenaline. Theres nothing like it, right?

Ashley Keith, 31, Seattle

Ashley Keith, 31, and her daughters Tru, 10, and Liberty, nine, at Marys Place, a family shelter on Amazon property in Seattle. Photograph: Annabel Clark for the Guardian

This is my second Christmas homeless with my three kids. Last year we were staying at a friends house and I tried to make it the best that I could for them, just like Im trying now. To not make it seem like were homeless.

We used to live at my moms. All the kids were raised there from birth until about a year and a half ago. But my mom kicked me out when my ex-husband and I separated. I still dont understand why. You never think youre going to become homeless. It was unreal, heart-wrenching. How do you explain that to kids? I just told them that we dont have a home any more. We still have a good network of friends. If you didnt know we were homeless, you couldnt tell by looking.

This Christmas the four of us are in a shelter in one room. Its tiny. I got us a 15in tree and one of the ladies from the shelter gave me some ornaments shed made with her family.

My two girls are 10 and nine, and my son is nine. Ive bought presents for the kids: one of those robotic ponies that walks, a drone, some Ninja Turtles and Doc McStuffins stuff. My son asked for a blanket and pillow. The kids still believe Santas coming. Just through our door, not the chimney, this time.

Joseph Panda Procella, 55, Seattle

Joseph Panda Procella, 55, at Tent City 5 tiny houses in Seattle. Photograph: Annabel Clark for the Guardian

Ive been homeless on and off for half my life, so how I spend Christmas depends on my circumstances. Sometimes Ive camped outdoors, other times Ive been in RV parks Ive travelled extensively looking for a community like Tent City 5. Its a city-sanctioned camp and we have our own tiny houses while we wait for something more permanent. Ive decorated my place with a tiny tree in the window and battery-powered lights from the dollar store.

I have disabilities and raised my two children in Texas on a social security check. It was a struggle. But we always got together with the larger family for a traditional Christmas meal with a ham poked with cloves and raisins and drizzled with honey and cinnamon. When my kids became adults, I lost our housing. That first Christmas I lived in my vehicle. My son was 19 and living nearby but he wasnt in school or work, and I worried I hadnt taught him how to survive, so I took him to some homeless shelters to show him what it was like. Both my children live well now.

Ive always wanted to give to others but accepted that I havent been able to. Little do most folks who live here know that theyre all getting a present this year. Ive made dreamcatchers and have recycled leather clothing and furniture to make traditional Native American-style medicine bags and cellphone cases. All done with gold buckskin and hand-cut fringe.

Theres definitely a Christmas spirit in the air at the camp. Being able to walk out the door and have all our possessions be safe in our tiny houses is such a great feeling. When youre on the street at Christmas, you dont have that home base. You dont have those strong family connections and those smells of food cooking and candles burning and the lights from the decorations. It can feel like its not worth celebrating. But for me, this little house of my own is the best gift Ive ever received.

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Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/dec/22/homeless-christmas-holidays

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