When you are sitting down to Christmas dinner with your family, Peadar Hartley will be out on the streets of Belfast engaging with those who have nowhere else to go.
The Queen’s graduate will spend four hours attempting to spread some Christmas joy by bringing any homeless people he sees into the warmth of the Welcome Organisation’s centre on Townsend Street for food and shelter.
It is a bittersweet kind of day, he said.
“It’s a very sad situation, especially for the ones with no family,” he said. “But you just try your best to create a happy and celebratory atmosphere in the centre.”
Throughout the year a quiet day will see Peadar and the others on the Street Outreach team meet with between 25 and 30 people on the streets, but on a busy day that number can rise to 60.
Not all of those people may be sleeping rough, some may be street drinkers or people who live in hostels but take to the streets during the day, Peadar added.
“It might sound strange but it becomes a kind of community you could say,” he said.
It is not just as simple as giving someone a blanket or food, or a bed for the night, said the 35 year-old.
“A lot of the people we meet can have a lot of distrust so it is quite complex. You really have to build up that relationship of trust. One day you might say hello to them and eventually they might speak back to you and it can go from there.”
The reasons for people becoming homeless are many and varied, said Peadar, but he has seen a growth in drug misuse.
“People I’ve seen are dealing with a range of issues from alcohol and drugs to relationship breakdowns or mental health problems,” he said.
“Legal highs and prescription drugs are coming in in a big way, from what I can see.”
While people may have sympathy for the plight of homeless people it is not always obvious from the reactions on the streets, Peadar said.
“You have to remember they are humans, they deserve dignity and care like everyone else,” he said. “It is up to individuals how they may want to help, whether it is giving to charity or buying the person a tea or sandwich. These are people who have maybe just fallen on hard times.”
Modest in the work he does Peadar adds: “You do get a lot of job satisfaction. But it’s not about you, it’s about the people you are helping.”
Homeless at Christmas: At least 10 people each night on streets of Belfast