Rough sleepers Christmas totes

A Westminster resident is raising money to make up totes for the London’s homeless this Christmas.

Maria Martinez, organiser of Totes4homeless, is brightening up Christmas for rough sleepers with tote bags filled with essential items and a festive treat.

Last year Maria and her family raised over £2400 and made up and delivered over 40 totes.

Maria said: “For the third year in a row, we are fundraising to pack Christmas totes for those struggling with homelessness in London this Christmas. 

Each tote comes with a variety of living essentials, including a sleeping bag, reusable water bottle, a fleece, a foldable poncho, shampoo, deodorant and thermal socks.

The bags will also come with a seasonal spin – a handwritten Christmas card and festive cookies.

Speaking to Westminster Times, Maria said her work training as a counselling psychologist compelled her to start the initiative three years ago.

“I have always felt a great sense of helplessness at the number of people struggling with homelessness in our city.

“I’m a counselling psychologist trainee, so the link between homelessness and psychological trauma never leaves me.”

The number of people sleeping rough on London’s streets has risen steadily in the last decade and peaked at just over 11,000 during the pandemic.

Maria hand packs each Christmas tote in her home with the help of family.

Maria acknowledged varying degrees of sympathy for the homeless among the public, but said that this ignores many underlying circumstances.

She said: “Some people may feel compassion for those struggling with homelessness, others might feel disgust.

“But who are we to judge?

“In all likelihood the person in front of us may have suffered abuse and neglect in childhood. They may have faced trauma, domestic violence, persistent rejection, health issues, psychological struggles. They might drink or take drugs and be judged for it, but that might be the only way they have ever learnt to cope.

“I think this is something we need to keep in mind.

But it was the worsening situation over Covid that pushed her to act.

“I then remember seeing a report during Covid which warned of a 33% increase in homelessness in London during lockdown, and that is where it all started.

“I had some spare time on my hands, wonderfully supportive people around me and thought we could give it a try and see what happened. To be honest, the project took off a lot more than we had initially expected.”

The tote bags contain around 20 items, from fleece jackets to foldable ponchos. Image: Maria Martinez.

Maria still prepares and packs the bags in her small apartment in Victoria, with the help of mother Sofia, boyfriend Graham and sister-in-law Nicole, where they handwrite all of the cards and bake over 200 cookies.

The scheme took off more than she expected. This year’s fundraiser on Gofundme is the largest yet, targeting £3500 and has already reached over £1200 in the space of a week.

People have been very responsive and generous to the cause, Maria said.

“Our fundraising has increased almost £1000 each year.

“To be honest, none of this could happen without people’s kind and generous support.”

Main image: Maria Martinez.

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