Three things I learnt

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I’ve slept out as part of the Advent Sleepout Challenge before. I did it a couple of times last year and, if I’m honest, I was quite lucky. They were both fairly warm nights (well, for December!) and I slept quite well. Sadly, my luck ran out this year.

On 30th November I settled down with about 20 others in the cloisters of Westminster Abbey to try and catch a good night of sleep. However, it had been snowing earlier that day. It was very cold. I mean, seriously cold. My previously pleasant sleepout experiences had left me too relaxed about what was ahead and I brought a terrible pillow and far too little clothing.

I guess I’m a little too used to the comforts of home. Whether that’s true or not, I found that night intolerable. I slept very, very badly. I had a morning of work ahead of me, however, so I got to my desk and got stuck in. If you’re the kind of person that tends to sleep poorly then you’ll know how hard the next day can be. At one point I picked up a phone that was ringing in the office and oh wow did I have to concentrate just to get the words to come out in the right order. The whole morning was a painful few hours and I was very glad to make it through!

As I made my way home for lunch, I began to question whether I would have been able to convince someone to hire me that morning. Probably not. Would I be able to get my head around a notoriously complicated Universal Credit application? I doubt it. Worse, would I be able pluck up the determination to get myself out of a seemingly impossible situation? I don’t know if I could do that on the best of days!

I suppose my natural response to seeing people sleeping rough is worrying about how cold it is and how hungry they must be. I might think about how intimidating it must be to sleep on a street. Until that morning on 1st Dec, I had not considered how hard the next day must be for people who have to sleep on the streets. I had not thought about all of the things they’d need to do that day, especially if they were working hard to get themselves off the streets and into employment and accommodation.

I write a lot of the online content for the Advent Sleepout Challenge and in the last few months I’ve written regularly about how the night shelters that we support offer people a warm welcome and real support to get people into employment and accommodation. It always sounded pretty good to me whenever I wrote it, now it sounds entirely necessary. I can’t imagine I’d be able to get myself off the streets if I didn’t have a night shelter to go to; somewhere I could go to get good sleep, people to talk to, and support from trained volunteers to help me with my job and accommodation search.

I suppose I can’t speak for everyone, but based on my one single night sleeping out (not even one on a street) I don’t think I would have been able to do what it took to get off the streets the next day.

So, I learnt three things that miserable morning:

1. The people who are working to get themselves off the street have a kind of determination about them that I had never considered.

2. We should be very thankful for the people who volunteer in night shelters to help people off the street – the value they add to our communities has been made much clearer to me.

3. When you raise money through the Sleepout Challenge you may be doing something less obvious than giving a sandwich to someone you see on the street, but you’re doing something that is much more lasting. You’re keeping night shelters open and that is crucial for ending homelessness.

So, whether you want to host a small sleepout in Advent this year or plan ahead to next, I’d highly recommend it; you will make a real difference. Just make sure you pack a decent pillow.

Post by: Tim Burton

NewsMatt Hollidge