CITYWIDE — For Kenneth Callahan, Christmas just means sleeping next to a dumpster in the cold instead of sleeping next to a dumpster in the heat.
Charlene Spurlock says it brings homeless people together. Another homeless man said it draws attention to his loneliness.
Practically speaking, it marks the end of the roughly six-week stretch, starting before Thanksgiving, during which more people donate time and money than at any other point in the year.
“I eat more this time of year than I did when I was a kid. There’s lots of food,” said Callahan, who’s been living on the streets for the past 13 months. “I’m numb to this time of year because I didn’t really have that much structure in my family.”
Kait Peters, development director at OPCC, a Santa Monica-based homeless services provider, said the overwhelming support is a positive thing, acknowledging that it slows down after the holidays.
“What’s different is that more people are aware that everybody is not as fortunate,” she said. “OPCC is really fortunate to benefit from the outpouring of generosity from our supporters.”
The summers are slower, she said, with regular volunteers taking vacations. But the holidays sometimes translate to more year-round volunteers she said.
“We wish that we could accommodate everybody that contacts us during November and December,” she said. “We tell them to get back in touch on the first of the year. We love that so many people are willing to volunteer.”
The amount of food stays the same, she said, but the tone is more cheery.
“We notice that people take an extra special effort to make it a festive gathering,” Peters said. “There’s extra decorations and people will donate things for gift bags for those staying at our shelters.”
There are holiday parties for the homeless, too, she said, like one at the Civic Auditorium hosted by Honda dealers of Southern California last week.
Hundreds of homeless gathered outside on the sidewalk waiting for the doors to open.
Spurlock, wearing a donated red coat and green shirt, spontaneously broke into “Silent Night.” She sounded like Elvis. None of her fellow homeless joined her, but she sang on.
“It’s beautiful around Christmas time,” Spurlock said. “We love each other. We come together.”
She echoed Peters’ assertion that decorations and volunteers are more plentiful this time of year.
“It’s a lot of festive events,” she said. “Between now and March it’s called holiday depression. There’s more suicides and people are depressed. For those that don’t have any families, we still reach out to one another. That’s what it’s all about.”
She plans to spend Christmas day with her homeless friends, she said. She has a cell phone and will call her family in Illinois.
For Callahan, one thing makes this time of year stand out more than any other.
“It’s the weather, like being caught in the rain,” he said. “It’s kind of miserable if you don’t have a place.”
A man nearby with a radio strapped to his bike said he’d been living on the streets for eight years. Christmas, he said, is like any other day.
“What can you do?” he said. “It’s another day that you do what you do. I’ll be out there surviving.”