Homelessness. Not something that’s really been on my radar before.
I can’t blame naivety – there are posters covering bus stops and tube stations throughout London, especially as it gets colder.
I knew the charities existed but I didn’t understand it – the charity, the people, the stories, the situations. I thought there were places to go, ways to get out of the terrible situation, people to turn to…
Well, the good news is, there are such places. PHEW! Wonderful news! But…they don’t run themselves.
Amongst many others doing similar great work, Centrepoint is the UK’s leading charity for homeless young folk, supporting 16-25 year olds – offering housing, healthcare, support and ways out of the vicious circle of homelessness. In an attempt to begin to understand not only what it must feel like to be in this situation, but also just how easily it can happen to so many people (and it does, 78,000-80,000 young people a year experience homelessness in the UK) I signed up to Centrepoint’s “Sleep Out”. It’s a fundraising event, so as well as learning more about homelessness and putting myself into the positions of those forced out of homes, I also hope to raise money to continue the great work of the charity.
I have had a lot of support in signing up to this challenge, but there are others who don’t totally understand it and I’d really like to change that. Trying to pretend it doesn’t exist to avoid guilt as you hop into your heated-seat Mercedes, or reasoning “they got themselves into that place” to remove burden when buying those Louboutin’s doesn’t fix what is ultimately one of London’s biggest problems.
Perhaps, like me, you’ve lived a fortunate life and never had to face the terrifying reality of not having a home to return home to in the evening. Of not having an ‘on switch’ on your boiler…or even a roof…or a bed…
If you, as I am, are lucky enough to have been brought up with a loving, supportive family who have kept you away from trouble and disaster it’s quite easy to make assumptions, create stereotypes and point fingers. I’ve never been beaten, or lost my job or my family – I’ve never lost everything I have. But surely that’s more reason than anything to really dig a little deeper and understand how something so completely unimaginable can happen to such a huge number of our population.
So that is exactly what I did.
My view on homelessness changed a lot just from signing up to the event as I developed a fear of the unknown. As I prepared myself for a night on the streets I began to dread the cold and discomfort of a hard floor, and vulnerability that I would feel. I worried that the strange sounds around would unnerve me and I would feel alone. I realised that once on the street you have no one. You are on your own.
It also became very clear to me that there is a huge stereotype of homelessness. It is associated with drunk and drugged-up street beggars that people turn their back to as they don’t know where the money will be spent. The truth is, you could walk past a homeless person in the street and not even realise. What does ‘homeless’ look like? The people who turn to Centrepoint for help are those who want a future and want to sort out the terrible situation they’ve found themselves in (usually through no fault of their own) – so you’re not funding drug abuse and alcoholism when you donate to Centrepoint, but help, support and a real future for young people.
It was the preparation before the event that actually gave me a much better understanding of the terrors of the streets at night than the event itself.
I have to confess, despite sleeping on a concrete floor, the evening still had to tick certain health and safety boxes and was meant to be a little bit of fun too. It was quite a far cry from the reality of what it must be like – which I was a little disappointed by as I was expecting to really struggle in order to better understand a homeless life. We were offered a choice of a marquee or a large hanger to sleep in, and aside from a carboard box for a mattress and potato sack to sleep inside we had all the luxuries of a normal life – working toilets, running water, food and drinks behind a bar, warm clothes, friends by our side and heavy security. We were even gifted a beautiful toiletry set filled with treats. Heavenly.
(The toughest part of the evening was the jet-engine-like snorer beside me. Even through ear plugs (which I’m aware is a luxury in its own right!) plus the constant interrupted sleep from movement around you, and awareness of other people)
Perhaps though, this well reflects the work of Centrepoint. They offer comfort at fearful times, a roof, a helping hand.
The evening included a hot dinner and some talks and music from a few famous faces. I would have liked to have heard more from those helped by Centrepoint – not just from the celebrities there to share the stories, but from the ones who have really benefitted from the charity and had their futures changed. Although their website is a great resource for this information and really shows how fundraising helps.
Before long it was time to turn out the lights. We all climbed into our potato sacks for the night.
If, like me, this blog post and information has heightened your awareness of what a fantastic cause this is I urge you to make a donation to the charity.
Your support makes such a difference.
If you would like to make a donation, big or small, please visit my fundraising page.