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David Hoffman & Crisis At Christmas

December 27, 2022
by the gentle author

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David Hoffman undertook a significant body of photography documenting the East End in the seventies and eighties that I plan to publish as a book entitled, A PLACE TO LIVE, Endurance & Joy in Whitechapel, accompanied by a major photographic exhibition at House of Annetta in Spitalfields.

I believe David’s work is so immensely important as a social document, distinguished by its generous humanity and aesthetic flair, that I must do it next year. If you share my appreciation of David’s photography and might consider supporting this endeavour, please drop me a line at

Almost by chance, at the end of the seventies, photographer David Hoffman found himself recording the formation of an organisation called Crisis at Christmas that opened up disused spaces and created temporary shelters staffed by volunteers to provide accommodation for the homeless through the holiday season when other shelters were shut.

As a participant rather than a visitor, David was able to take intimate photographs of those who sought refuge, capturing emotional images which are humane yet void of sentimentality.

There is a timeless quality to many of these pictures that could equally be of refugees from a war zone or in some apocalyptic dystopian vision of the future, yet this is London in the recent past and Crisis at Christmas is still with us and the work goes on.

“At the time, I was known for my photos of the homeless at St Botolph’s in Aldgate and I was going out with a girl named Peta Watts, who was working at Crisis at Christmas – so when she asked me to take pictures there, I leapt at the chance of becoming the Crisis photographer, and I did it for three years.

This was the early days of these shelters and they used derelict churches. One of them was St Philip & St Augustine in Whitechapel, round the corner from the squat where I lived in Fieldgate Mansions, and the next year it was at the Tradescant church of St Mary’s in Lambeth. So there were very little facilities – perhaps only a cold tap and one toilet for hundreds of people –  and the whole thing was a chaotic feat of organisation, but somehow it all worked. They got donations of food and clothing and toys. And I remember some of the guys found an old bath tub in a skip and brought it in and filled it with water, so they could wash themselves. There was no regard to Health & Safety or regulation as we know it, but it all worked brilliantly and everyone was very well looked after. There was no hierarchy and the homeless people would be involved in the cooking and arranging the mattresses, and keeping the whole thing running.

I photographed it because it was a wonderful event and – like at St Botolph’s – some of the people were couples, and I took their pictures and brought them prints the next day. Many of these people had been living on the streets all year and the photographs helped them to have a more positive self-image.

Some would be shooting up and and others would be drinking, and an ambulance would come two or three times a day to pick people up. There were fights too, and I remember there was an unspoken rule that only one volunteer would approach to break it up by speaking softly – and it never failed. Many of the volunteers were middle class people who would work eighteen to twenty hours a day. What I liked about it was people coming together and doing things for themselves – and it just worked, and the homeless people looked after each other.”

Photographs copyright © David Hoffman

Click here to donate to Crisis At Christmas


You may also like to take a look at

David Hoffman At St Hilda’s, 1975


6 Responses leave one →
  1. Andy permalink
    December 27, 2022

    It takes a certain person who can cope with crowds to join this.

  2. December 27, 2022

    Poignant, sad and wonderful all at the same time… Magnificent photographs, incredible faces.

  3. December 27, 2022

    A Man with his Dog, a Man crying, a loving Couple, Men playing MONOPOLY, People who help each other — the real, true meaning of Christmas!

    Love & Peace

  4. December 27, 2022

    These are amazing photos. Because of the lighting, perhaps, in the very first photo it looks as if the holy family are there with the people – the statues look almost real. This theme – purposeful or not – continues with the foot washing/foot checking, and the naked man with the bruised back standing by the old bath, immediately made me think of a whipped and beaten Christ prior the crucifixion. This imagery is really symbolic and very moving.

    But the photos are also very down to earth and human too, capturing the humour, camaraderie and casual violence of life on the streets.

    These photographs deserve to be published and to reach as a wide an audience as possible. Hoffman is an artist.

  5. Venetia permalink
    December 27, 2022

    I very quickly discovered, while working at a similar establishment in Bristol, that many people at that time – as many as 50% – were happier living on the streets than trying to earn a living and having responsibility for rent, electricity and food-buying etc. But everyone appreciated a good hot meal with chips and chocolate sponge and a sugary mug of tea.

  6. Marcia Howard permalink
    December 27, 2022

    Heartbreaking that homelessness is still such a huge problem, although heartwarming there are so many good people who also still give their time and resources to help – especially at Christmas. I used to work in London (I retired in 1998), and it broke my heart that every doorway I passed coming from the tube station to my office had a homeless person curled up in it, mostly only covered by a bit of cardboard. I’ve been supporting Crisis and ‘homeless’ charities since, although always feel my small contribution is little more than a drop in the ocean!
    Wonderful images taken by David Hoffman though, and very much need to be shared.

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