Last Thursday night I slept out in the open at St James Park football ground – home of Newcastle United – as part of the CEO Sleepout initiative to tackle homelessness.
According to this article “More than 250,000 are homeless in England – Shelter” on the BBC website:
For the very first time, Shelter has totted up the official statistics from four different forms of recorded homelessness.
- national government statistics on rough sleepers
- statistics on those in temporary accommodation
- the number of people housed in hostels
- the number of people waiting to be housed by social services departments (obtained through Freedom of Information requests)
The charity insists the overall figure, 254,514, released to mark 50 years since its founding, is a “robust lower-end estimate”.
So, the challenge of homelessness is an ongoing issue, even if this Wikipedia article suggests fluctuating levels of homelessness.
Statistics can be ‘dry’, whereas sleeping out – even if in somewhat artificial circumstances – makes this a real, human issue which involves imperatives of health and (ultimately) living or dying.
We arrived at SJP at 7.45pm, and there were a fair few people already getting settled in. I had been advised to be proactive in finding a sleeping pitch, although I realised I needed to move out of a gangway!
There was a presentation by the two charities involved – Changing Lives and Newcastle United Foundation – including a poignant real life story from Matty, which helped set our own situations in the context of lived experience.
Andy Preston (Chairman and Founder of CEO Sleepout) and Abu Ali (Trustee) both addressed us with stories of their own.
There was some networking, a tour of the Home team dressing room, their players’ lounge (which featured a musical gig), and the chance to take in the massive stadium albeit not the pitch itself.
I got my head down in good time – with two sleeping bags, a bed roll, a camping pillow, and much fleece and thermals. Slumber arrived reasonably quickly, with a decent amount of shut-eye.
There were practical challenges – such as sirens as the evening wore on, and then the raucous cries of herring gulls which seemed to be pretty non-stop through the early hours.
Most of us started stirring around 5.30am, and we were fortunate to be greeted by bacon butties, teas and coffees, water, and friendly first aid people and stadium security. I left at 7am.
St James Park has security cameras, stewards, toilets, fresh water for drinking – and a large roof over the stand. So, it’s safe, dry, and free from people worse for wear after a night out.
I had a chat with musician Mark first thing – he wisely said that we had only ‘a hint’ of what it must be like to sleep rough for extended periods.
We go home to hot water, welcoming loved ones, and a chance to recover. The disorientation from on-going sleep debt, vulnerability, lack of dignity, inadequate victuals, and insanitary conditions is something I can’t really get my head round.
So, we can make a difference but the I guess the challenge is to maintain focus on giving people back their lives and honour themselves and those they love.
Monies raised so far
According to the follow-up e-mail from Andy Preston / CEO Sleepout:
So far the total raised is £76,300 but we expect this figure to increase significantly over the next week and I will be back in touch very soon to announce the final figure. […]
See what you can do and thanks again for being part of this amazing event. Despite the discomfort and lack of sleep for the night we hope you enjoyed the experience and will look in a more sympathetic way at those who endure sleeping rough night after night.
Huge thanks to our charity partners Newcastle United Foundation and Changing Lives for co-organising this brilliant event.
A really heartfelt ‘Thank you’ to everyone who has donated to support my own fundraising. Right now the total on my page is £530 from 23 supporters. That’s brilliant, and good news all round.
Although the event is over, you can still donate – so please do so via JustGiving. You can also give me cash which I can them ‘upload’ to my fundraising page.
Not only, but also
You may be amused by this video I compiled when sleeping in my tent in February, by way of a trial run…