Since 2010, homelessness has risen by 134% in the UK. This means that the amount of people that are homeless has more than doubled in less than 10 years, and we, the students, have noticed. So I decided to try to do something about it.
On Friday the 10th of May, a group of students and the officer team decided to sleep rough outside Derby Cathedral for one night. We had three main aims for the night:
The first aim, was to experience what a night sleeping on the streets might be like. I would say that this is the least important aim, as it won't really have an impact on those who have to sleep rough. In addition, ours was hardly an authentic experience. It was for one night only; we were in a group; a volunteer from Padley watched over us to make sure we were safe; we had access to toilets and hot water; we had food, sleeping bags, tarpaulin and blankets. While we were cold, uncomfortable and didn't sleep well, our night on the street was a far cry from what rough sleepers experience every day of the year.
The second aim was to raise some money for Padley. Padley is a charity in Derby that works with rough sleepers, homeless people and disadvantaged individuals in the community to help them get back on their feet. They do this through their Homeless Centre, Development Centre and Charity Shop. One of their volunteers joined us for the night to watch over us while we were slept, and he himself used to be a rough sleeper, but Padley helped him and he now has a house, a job and a family. He is a shining example of just how much of an impact Padley can have on each individual who accesses their services. A number of us took sponsorships through JustGiving, which raised a total of £284. We also raised money on the night, by speaking to members of the public about our cause and taking donations. We had a giant connect 4 with us to get members of the public interested which worked a treat, as we also raised £119.38 on the night through donations from the public. This means, throughout the whole event, we raised £403.38! This is a fantastic result, and will help Padley to deliver support for many more individuals just like the volunteer who joined us on the night. We also had a lot of food and tarpaulin left at the end, which we donated to Padley.
The final aim, and the one that I think is the most important, was to break down some negative misconceptions around homelessness, learn something new, raise some awareness and spread some knowledge. We want not only those involved to feel this impact, but to the public who interacted with us, and anyone else who sees the event, such as you, reading this article right now. The volunteer told us stories of what it was really like. Rough sleeping is about more than just not having a bed or a house. It's about not even having the dignity of being able to use a toilet. It's about not having the basic right to go into a shop, and pick out what food you want to eat, and then paying for it yourself- a process we certainly take for granted. It's about people- your average, good person- walking past you and not even looking you in the eye. It's having to decide between being cold or being hungry. It's about drug dealers targeting homeless communities with free samples, in order to get them hooked, knowing that they're likely to hold on to something that feels good. It's about not ever being able to fully fall asleep, being afraid that some stranger might beat you, pee on you, or even set you on fire. It's about people not giving you money because they assume you're only going to spend it on drugs, without even asking you what your story is. It's about atleast half of homeless people having mental health issues, being 9 times more likely to take their own lives, and having an average life expectancy of just 47 years.
This experience has changed us, we now will no longer look at those on the streets and make assumptions, or predict exactly what is best for them. Sometimes just to look them in the eyes and smile can make a difference. We now see homelessness and rough sleeping in a whole new light, and want others to, too. We hope that, in some way, this event will make a difference to someone out there who needs it.
Throughout the night, several individuals approached us to share their experience, either current or previous, of homelessness and rough sleeping. One woman's story in particular was very touching. She was celebrating her 60th birthday with her husband and daughter. She saw and approached us, interested in what we were doing, and very supportive of the event and it's aims. She then told us the story of when she was 17 years old (43 years ago), she ran away from home, and slept rough on the streets of London. This was not only a harsher time, but a harsher place, especially for a young woman. She found it difficult, and said all she (and others in the community) needed was someone to listen. She then went on to talk about how women weren't, and to a degree still aren't, listened to, and that our voices were powerful, that we needed to make the most of them. We all got a bit emotional at the story and her speech, and we all had a group hug as well. This woman's story was incredibly touching and inspiring, and was affirming for us to know that we were doing something really important.
To learn more about Padley Group, take a look at their website here:
If you want to donate to the cause, you can find our JustGiving page here: