Here we go again. It’s Christmas! A spasm of heady consumption and social whirling which precedes a short period marked by permutations of worship, gathering and relaxation, spiced with family disputes, alcohol abuse and box sets. This year, more than any I can recall for a while, we all need a break, an escape from the nonsense which our political leaders are inflicting upon us.

In making Christmas our own, we will roll with the yuletide vibe in line with our appetites and resources (the simplest celebrations can often be the best) but, as a unifying mandatory, a good Christmas does tend to require a solid roof over your head. ‘All you need is love’ claimed The Beatles in 1967 but, in my view, the most important four-letter word in the English language is ‘home’, a place of safety, freedom and permanence.

And yet, staggeringly, according to figures released by the charity Shelter, an estimated 307,000 people in Britain, equivalent to one in every 200, are officially recorded as homeless or living in inadequate homes. In London, one in every 59 people is homeless.

In Metro, one of the capital’s free newspapers, last Friday’s front page added another dimension to these shaming statistics – ‘Homeless up by 65% in 7 years’. The problem is getting worse, particularly outside London in our large regional cities and, worst of all, again from Metro, ‘More than 120,000 kids (are) stuck in temporary accommodation’.

It’s hard to encapsulate homelessness. The familiar and troubling image of a rough sleeper, holding a paper cup, asking for spare change at the entrances to underground stations is but part of the picture. Surprisingly, most homeless people are hidden from the data as they are dealing with their situation informally, for example, by ‘sofa surfing’ or living in unsuitable housing such as squats or the pithily-named ‘beds in sheds’.

What is clear, however, is that we have a crisis on our hands. Plenty of experts are aware of and are seeking to address the problem. The voluntary sector has been particularly active and the launch of the new London Homeless Charities Group (LHCG), also on 15th December, is well-timed and reassuring. A total of 18 charities have come together to kick off the Group’s first winter campaign with the support of Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London.

The annual summoning of goodwill, from all for all, when the temperature on the streets drops to freezing, does bring the plight of the homeless into high relief but, obviously, homelessness isn’t just for Christmas and, come January, also a chilly month, an intensifying calamity remains.

No one yet seems to have resolved how to spring the homelessness trap, created by a triple whammy of insufficient affordable housing, high rents and welfare cuts.  As seems to be common to many of our long-term social issues, the scale is acknowledged too late and the solutions are short-term and disjointed. Scarily, Shelter warned earlier this year that more than a million households are at risk of becoming homeless by 2020.

I need to declare an interest at this point. I chair YMCA North London which, in conjunction with its sister Housing Society, provide a wide range of community services in the Borough of Haringey including a large 154 bed hostel for vulnerable, homeless young people. I’m pleased to see that YMCA England & Wales is a member of the LHCG.

Struck by the complexity of homelessness and the damage it can cause if experienced for a protracted period, what we will be attempting at our YMCA is to establish a local progressive system to counter homelessness, beginning with protection from the elements and leading, following a sensitively managed pathway, to the first steps in sustainable, independent living.

Exposing a career in communications, my pet name for our emerging process is the three Rs, Rescue, Restore and Release. Rescue is the provision of a bed and regular meals; Restore is time spent exploring and nurturing areas of interest and potential, preparing for (re-)entry to the workplace; Release involves leaving the hostel, initially entering move-on accommodation, ready to settle into a more stable and secure regime.

The real challenge, therefore, is to see beyond the immediate problem of people without a decent roof and tackle the greater need to help restore what passes for normal life. This involves patience, energy, resourcefulness and, especially, collaboration to provide all the pieces of the jigsaw.

Reaching the desired destination can take a while but I have only been told once, by a formerly homeless person, how empowering it felt to hold their own front door key for the first time. Once was enough!

As we anticipate our own family festivities, the plague of homelessness continues to ravage our society. I don’t have the answer, and this is not to wag a finger, but I know that positive steps, like the LHCG, are being taken and that the way we solve significant problems like this one is by many people doing little things.

So, if you care about homelessness, wherever you are, please get involved.

Happy Christmas and thanks for reading my blogs this year.