I probably wasn’t the only guy who spent a night sleeping under a bush in Wolverhampton this winter. But I crazily did it out of choice, whereas others might have done it accidentally, having drank a drop or two more than might have been good for them whilst enjoying the Wolves night life, or out of necessity having nowhere else to go.
I was taking part in YMCA Black Country Group’s annual Sleep Easy funds and awareness raiser. I think nearly 100 of us slept out in either Oldbury, Walsall or Wolverhampton and it was cracking fun. Whilst we have raised a bit of money and given the timeless problem of homelessness a bit of an airing, we really cannot claim to have got close to experiencing what it is like to genuinely sleep rough:
- Fear. The things that made sleeping difficult were noise and discomfort from the hard ground and cold. However, if you’re sleeping on the streets you’re gonna have that constant awareness that you are vulnerable to anybody who might decide to do you a bad turn. The worse thing I had to worry about was whether a spider was gonna crawl into my cardboard box.
- Food & Drink. We were so fortunate because we were really well looked after. We had the luxury of a BBQ, jacket potatoes with chili and tea, coffee or hot chocolate. If you’re destitute you won’t even be able to afford any decent food let alone have any means to cook it. You must wake up every morning with an absolute black hole in your stomach.
- Company. One of things that makes Sleep Easy so great is that you get to meet new people and spend time with old friends. However, if you’re regularly spending time on the streets you are going to be crossing paths with a whole cross section of society – the best and the worst. There must be a real sense of sticking by one another but at the same time those who have been homeless will often give examples of when they have been taken advantage of.
- Boredom. To be honest Sleep Easy is one of the most fun things you can do. Staying up late and good company makes an excellent recipe for having a great time. But the thought of not having the comfort of a home to go to and relax is really scary when you really think about it. You wake up in the morning and spend the day wandering around trying to get some food and keep warm, and that is pretty much it. For hour after hour, day after day, week after week, and longer if you’re unlucky. It must utterly numb your mind.
- Sense of Worth. The luxury all Sleep Easy participants have is that we have a nice warm feeling at the back of our minds that we’re doing something for a good cause, something worthwhile. However, if you’re sleeping on the streets then you’re likely not doing most of the things that society accepts as being worthwhile – you’re not working, you’re not making money, if you’re in touch with them at all then you’re not contributing to your family, you don’t have belongings. Sleeping rough must make you feel utterly worthless.
So that’s just a few thoughts from me. I would recommend getting involved in a local Sleep Easy next time one comes around. It’s a great experience and really gets you thinking.