This weekend was a busy one. On Friday night I took to the streets with 50 others to ‘sleep rough so others don’t have to’, with Cheltenham YMCA, dubbed on twitter as #SleepEasy2015 or just #Sleepy2015.
We all met at 7.30pm to get our boxes, and until midnight, there were activities in the sports hall and in the car park. We took part in Zumba to keep warm as the wind picked up and before heading to bed we took part in a quiz that the organisers had put together. Most people also decorated their boxes which were then judged at 9pm. Now I know that at this point, it sounds more like a jolly camping trip rather than a hard hitting experience! However, the sobriety of the situation was never far from all of our minds and the fun activities were a way of keeping spirits high.
From midnight, the real event began, we all headed ’to bed’, which in some cases were well equipped with sleeping bags and a couple of boxes, and on the other end of the spectrum (in my case as I don’t own a sleeping bag) a couple of sheets, plenty of jumpers and one box that meant my bum and legs stuck out into the night air. Now, before you even start to feel sorry for me, know that after this event, I went home to my Mums house (who had had Scarlett for the night) and went to bed and slept for four hours so before I go on, no sympathy needed!
It was a very mild day but with no clouds in the sky, it was a cold night and the strong wind made it feel much colder. As we got into our boxes and said goodnight, the reality of what homeless people face every single day really hit us all. The wind meant the boxes shook, and you could hear cars on the nearby road and trains on the nearby train tracks. My friend (and homeless neighbour) Erin summed it up perfectly with a tweet she sent saying she felt ‘exposed’. We knew we were safe, there were staff in the sports hall ready to help if any of us needed anything and most of us had our phones to update on Facebook and twitter and the like which kept us relatively close to the friends and family that we would probably turn to for help if we needed somewhere to go. People that those who end on the street don’t necessarily have to go to, they certainly don’t have a phone or internet connection to reach out to people.
I didn’t think a night on the street would necessarily affect me emotionally, I knew it’d be cold, I didn’t expect to feel so lonely and so vulnerable. My husband was away in Belfast and needed to sleep well for work but my retired Dad got several text messages during the night essentially just needing reassurance and some good luck messages. And all this for one measly night! At 6.30am we were all welcomed into the sports hall for a breakfast of sausage or bacon rolls and a hot cup of tea! In the grand scheme of things, this was not really a huge deal! At around 3am I needed the toilet, had I been on the streets, I’m not sure what I would’ve have done; as it was I just went into the sports hall and used the toilet before returning to my box, (doing a couple of jumping jacks to try and warm up a bit!) by 4am, the cold had got through to my bones. I was breathing into my gloves and then putting my hands on my knees to try and get a tiny bit of warmth to the throbbing joints. I put the sheets over my head and tried to breathe enough to create some warm air. I bent up into all kinds of strange shapes to try and get as much of me into this rather small box as possible. When those positions caused painful pins and needles and aches and pains, I got into a different one. All of this made for not a very good nights sleep at all! Overall, I got 55 minutes sleep between 4 and 5am, the rest of the time was just trying to get through.
I was determined not to go into the sports hall which we were told we could do if it got too much or we felt ill or whatever. I thought of every person on the streets who would give their right arm for one night in a sports hall and I knew I’d be letting my sponsors down and the homeless down by giving in.
By the looks of Twitter, most of my comrades failed to get much sleep as well and all of us in the morning were proud to have lasted without resorting to the sports hall. As we took our group picture before everyone headed back to their regular lives, nobody cared about being photographed without makeup or looking tired, we had all been through an emotional experience together with a whole new appreciation for how charmed our lives really are.
For me personally my biggest problems that come to mind are as follows;
1. Sometimes the timer doesn’t work on our boiler so we have to manually turn it on and off.
2. I’m constantly staying up late writing or similar and so I’m quite often a bit tired in the day.
3. Being self employed, my husband and I can’t always guarantee when invoices are going to be paid so we have to be careful about paying bills and food etc. and sometimes have to temporarily dip into our savings. I know I know, cry us a river..!
4. We work most weekends so often miss out on social events we’d like to go to.
For someone who relies on the street for survival, their worries are as follows;
Praying the weather is kind so they will stay at least dry.
Fearing falling asleep in case someone takes what little they have or worse, attacks them.
Trying their hardest each day to scrape together some food and water to survive another day sleeping on the streets.
Exhaustion at an entirely different level and cold to their very bones which does not leave you.
When I got back from the night, I slept for four hours straight away but went into a bit of a shivery sleep as if I had the flu or similar. That night I went to bed at 8.30pm still exhausted and struggled to sleep because although our house was lovely and warm, the cold that had seeped into my bones still hadn’t left me. I couldn’t get comfortable because my joints and muscles ached and I still felt a bit fevery. It was not an experience that left me straight away. It took a good couple of days to recover from it and that was one night!!
For those that live on the streets, they don’t have the luxury of a hot shower, a warming cup of tea and a comfortable bed after a difficult night, and frankly the night we had, with strong winds and 7 degrees out, we had a very easy time of it considering. I don’t even want to know how much harder it would be if it had been colder, or raining. Or how frightening a thunderstorm would have been. Or how upsetting it would be if I couldn’t have spent the evening catching up with a friend and texting friends and family. I found it incredibly hard and yet realistically had it easy.
The total amount raised is not yet confirmed but I personally raised £150 which isn’t necessarily ground breaking but it will help and if all 50 of us raised the same amount it’s £7,500 which could make a real difference to the homeless people of Gloucestershire.
It wasn’t the end of my weekends activities but it was certainly one of the most powerful events I’ve ever been a part of and although it was very exposing, I would do it again to try and make more of a difference. My baby daughter will hopefully never find herself on desperately hard times, and if she does, there are friends and family around who would do anything to help and support her. Some people aren’t in the same situation and need people to be on their side; so for all those people who find themselves in desperately difficult situations but don’t have anyone to help and support them, it was an absolute privilege to in some tiny way, fight for each and every one of them.