By Val Nevin, Assistant Director
I took part in the CEO Sleep out at St James Park in October. It was a wet day but not cold and I was not very enthusiastic at the prospect of sleeping around the football pitch.
I had a meal of heavy carbs, I was thinking I’d need it to keep warm; well that’s my excuse anyway!
I arrived with my fellow sleepers looking like a bunch of refugees dragging along our sleeping bags and various items to ensure we were warm and would survive the night.
I had mixed feelings about taking part in the event as friends and family were quite critical suggesting that in no way was it a real experience as no matter how uncomfortable the night was, I’d be jumping in my car to a warm cosy bed the following morning, whereas people sleeping rough don’t have that luxury. I entirely agree, but my motivation for taking part was to raise funds for charities providing support for people who are homeless, including my own charity Changing Lives, and also to raise awareness of the issue of homelessness.
It was an unusual night and it was interesting talking with fellow sleepers. All were interested in the work of Changing Lives and keen to learn more about what we do to help people who are sleeping rough.
I was a bit uncomfortable as many people were drinking quite a bit of alcohol late into the night and this seemed at odds with the purpose of the event. I came to terms with it by thinking at least 46 other people are raising funds for a cause close to my heart. They’ll also have raised awareness by talking with friends and families who may otherwise not have considered the issue of homelessness.
Soon after midnight I found my spot for the night and rolled out my cardboard and sleeping bag in an attempt to get some sleep. It had stopped raining by this time which I was delighted about. The concrete was uncomfortable but I was warm and safe. Although I did wonder if there were rats around and what they would make of it all, as long as they kept away from me I wasn’t too concerned.
Looking up there was a full moon in a black sky, quite eerie, what was very strange was the feeling of isolation; I could hear fellow sleepers laughing and talking at the other end of the pitch and the screams of sirens as ambulances and police cars raced through the city throughout the night. I was very near to people but the feeling of isolation and disconnection was immense. Is that how peopling sleeping rough feel every night?
I managed to drift in and out of sleep for about four hours and I was very relieved at 6am when we could pack up our gear and head home.
It was an interesting night and a number of people who took part signed up for the event in 2015, which was good and on a personal level it was a great night for increasing my network. I met some people keen to work in partnership with Changing Lives, so despite peoples motivation and methods of making it through the night it was a positive experience and the event did what it said it would do.
The CEO Sleep Out last year raised £56,000. Of this £18,000 was donated to Changing Lives and we used the money to fund a part-time Welfare Advice Officer to work directly with clients to provide welfare benefit and financial advice. To date 80 clients have benefitted from one to one support resulting in clients saving £70,000. The donation also funded Welfare Reform training courses to better equip staff in supporting clients.
Changing Lives provides 236 beds every night for people who would otherwise sleep rough.
If you’d like to support our work with a donation, just go to www.changing-lives.org.uk and click Donate to give your gift.
Key statistics about homelessness
- Rough sleeping in England rose by 37% from 2010-2013.¹
- In the year 2013/14, nearly 5,000 people in the North East alone presented themselves as homeless to their local authority.
- Statutory homelessness is increasing due to the demands on local authorities for homelessness assistance.
- People who do not qualify for local authority housing assistance and may be staying in a hostel, with friends or family or some other form of insecure accommodation are the ‘hidden homeless.’ Hostel bed spaces have been reduced by 4,000 over the last 3 years, particularly affecting single people nationally. 2
1. DCLG (2014) Total Streetcounts and Estimates Autumn 2013
2. Homeless Link (2013) Survey of Needs and Provision