On Friday 9th September I embarked on a journey with a difference….
A few months previously I had seen a sponsored advert on Facebook, it was from St Basil's and they wanted people to take part in a sponsored sleep out to raise funds for their youth homeless projects. It was taking place at the cathedral ruin in Coventry, a favourite place of mine.
It didn't take long for me to decide to do it, I have a thing for trying new experiences and saw this as something new to try that also helped others. So I signed up for it and was eager to do it!
I traveled from Wolverhampton to Coventry on the train, no real idea of what this was going to be like. I'd already checked the weather and knew that it was going to rain in the early hours. But I didn't understand what that would actually be like.
Upon arrival at the cathedral, I was signed in and given my wristband, a box and plastic sheet. I already had two small groundsheets which had spent years in a cupboard waiting to be used. So I attempted to build a shelter, I found a spot in a chapel near the cathedral spire. It was relatively sheltered and had a bush growing out of it so there was some privacy too.
St Basil's had got a band to come and provide some entertainment, they certainly provided a good atmosphere and it was nice chatting with others. A face painter had come along and was painting faces for free, she liked supporting events such as this and painted a great palm tree in a sunset on my cheek!
There was also a young man who spoke who was a service user. St Basil's had helped him to get enrolled into college and volunteer somewhere so he could improve his skills and confidence.
The experience of trying to sleep with a large plastic bag around me and more wrapped over the box was strange. I really hope I never have to sleep like it again.
It was a pleasant and warm evening, and being in a city centre there were people out enjoying their Friday night. It was noisy and everything echoed, so not easy to drift off to sleep. The wind kept blowing the plastic sheets around so I had to shuffle around and try to tuck it back into place then get back to sleep. At around 2 am I woke up to rain. It wasn't much of a problem, until the wind started blowing the sheets again an hour or so later, and I was being dripped on from several places. The box covering my legs was starting to sag and I was holding the box above my head up with both hands to stop the rain leaking in. I honestly felt so exhausted at that point that I just wanted it to be over. It was cold, dark and I hadn't slept more than an hour without waking up. I scrambled around for my phone to see what time it was, at 4 am it was nearly time to get up anyway so I got out of my sad little shelter and started packing it up. The first luxury that morning was being able to use the cathedral toilet and dry my hands under the hot air dryer.
It wasn't a fun experience, it wasn't a laugh. It was something which many people HAVE to do every night. St Basil's work with young people aged 16 – 25 to help prevent vulnerable people becoming homeless and help to get them off the streets if they already are. They work around the Midlands and offer so many services from housing to training to working in schools raising awareness.
I have so much respect for their staff and service users, and I will be doing another of their events next year.
Homelessness is ever increasing, and provisions to deal with them are falling onto the shoulders of charities. I did some research online, for some statistics. And I came across something which has really un nerved me.
Households found to be homeless by local authorities
These are households which the council has found to be homeless. They are not all accepted as being owed a duty by the council, for example some are found to be homeless but not in priority need.
I have taken this from the Shelter website. How can any council claim a homeless person isn't in priority need? The West Midlands has the second highest amount of homeless people, the highest recorded amount is in London. Shelter, as a leading national homeless charity, have compiled a table of regional figures of which can be found on their website. Since 2010 there has been a steady increase and with further Tory cuts it will get worse.
No one should sleep rough. Mental health care should be funded so that these people don't fall through the cracks and end up destitute. There are many reasons a person ends up on the street, but they are still people and they deserve our help.
Link to St Basils – http://www.stbasils.org.uk/streetsmart
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/stbasilscharity/
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