Just the thought of not having a safe and secure place to sleep, to be with my family and to call home is enough to make me lose sleep. I am in the blessed position of never (yet) having had to say that I was homeless and you might think that’s not so unusual but actually research shows that 1 in 10 people in England say they have personally experienced homelessness (1). That is a crazy number, 10% of people have been effected during their lives? Put 20 of my friends in a room and 2 of them have been there?
David Mackintosh, MP and Chair of the APPG for Ending Homelessness, says ‘anyone can become homeless given the wrong set of circumstances’ (2). I’ll be honest, up until about three years ago I wasn’t really aware of quite how bad things are and how widespread homelessness is. Living in Hertfordshire the poverty tended to be hidden and whilst I knew there were people in need from my work with my church, I never saw anyone living on the streets except when I went into London.
Now living in East Sussex where my closest major town is Hastings I am exposed to people sleeping on the streets every time I go there to do my shopping. The story I hear is that people in northern cities like Manchester think it will be just that bit brighter if they can come to the coast and of course it is a fallacy. It is just as miserable sleeping in a smelly arch by the St Leonard’s beach as it is a subway in central Manchester.
In 2015 more than double the number of people were sleeping rough than in 2010 (3).
My connection with homeless people has changed in the last few years in that I have been working with the food bank in Hastings for the last couple of years and through meeting some really well dressed people, I have been able to understand that being homeless does not just mean living on the streets. It could be living in a place where there is domestic violence and you are not safe or it could be spending time in a temporary B&B as your partner disappeared leaving you and the kids with a mortgage you cannot pay. Life is really complex and things do not box up neatly and meet our expectations of what a regular life looks like. I’ve really learnt not to judge and to keep my own (erratic) thoughts in check, it has been a great time of growth.
The end of a private tenancy is the leading cause of homelessness; it is the primary cause in 31% of cases nationally and 41% in London. This shows how families that are doing their best but just getting by are still susceptible (4).
My husband also volunteers with the night church in central Hastings. This means that if I am in town with him some of the people who are homeless recognise him and come over to say hi. Of course I am always pleasant to them but if I’m honest I’m quite socially awkward as I’m not sure what to say.
This is one of the reasons I have signed up to help with a winter night shelter that will ‘pop-up’ in local church buildings from November to March next year. The Snowflake night shelter project has been running for a few years now but this is the first time I have become aware of it and as soon as I heard God placed it on my heart to help. So I’ve been along to the induction, had my reference returned and I am now waiting for some training in dealing with people living on the streets and in emergency first aid. I am both excited and nervous about what my voluntary evenings will hold. Although I know is that God will use my service for good and I’ll keep on growing in the process.
The life expectancy of rough sleepers is 30 years shorter than for the rest of the population (5).
Recently I was contacted by the Church Urban Fund to ask if I could write about their Advent Sleepout Challenge and of course given my interest in this area, I said yes but I was then super stoked to find that the CUF have actually made grants to the Snowflake night shelter before. So they have helped my project that I’m going to be involved with and that makes it feel very personal.
The idea of the Advent Sleepout Challenge is simple enough. A group of people find a suitable venue to sleep out in (so you don’t have to actually be on the streets, maybe a church hall, farm barn or such) and then you all collect sponsorship to go to the CUF and you can have an evening together. Watch the video, it explains it really well –
If you fancy organising an event, have a look at the full toolkit that is available to help you. Or you can check out which events have already been organised and get involved with one of those.
In 2015 the funds made from the Advent Sleepout Challenge was £93,450 at 75 events across England. This year the CUF hope to raise at least £200,000 to be able to help homeless and marginalised people all over the UK.
If you are not convinced that CUF is a great charity to raise funds for then have a look at Ryan’s story, you can’t fail to be inspired.
Best of luck with your planning and I hope lots of people get involved. I’m now pondering how I can make a small event work with the kids and youth that live here as part of my community.
1. Homeless Link, Support for single homeless people in England: Annual Review 2015.
2. Crisis, www.crisis.org.uk/pages/appgeh.html
3. and 4. Crisis, www.crisis.org.uk
5. NHS, Rough sleepers: health and healthcare, 2013
Images : With thanks to the Church Urban Fund