Sleep Out for the Homeless

Helen Caine participated in the Sleep Out for the Homeless in Worcester on 4th April.  Here she tells of her experiences.

I was very impressed with the organisation beforehand. When I followed simple instructions, I found the meeting place easily and was greeted by members of Worcester Warriors, doing the registration.  We had to sign a disclaimer about health and safety and publicity. Much use was made of Facebook posts throughout the event. I was then escorted by one of the players to the South Stand, which was our home for the night. There was a place to sleep, between the bar and the ladies toilets, and I chose that, rather than an individual plinth between seats on the terrace.  Everyone was under cover, but exposed to the wind, which was very cold.  About half the people (eventually) bedded down in this area. It was obviously going to be a noisy night!  However, all the arrangements went to plan, and the lights went off at 11.30 pm, which was a cue for quietness to descend, until about 5.45 am, when everyone who had arrived a bit earlier than me, was up and gone!  We had been asked to be off the site by 6.30am. By this time there was an enormous roar from the motorway, but I didn’t hear that in the sleeping place during the night.    There   was   plenty  of   snoring, though, even before the giggling had died down.

 

I was greeted warmly by Fliss, one of the workers at St Paul’s who recognised me, and mentioned that she had been impressed with my fundraising (not of course due to me but to many generous members of the Methodist Circuit) as I was one of the highest individuals and she had been charting my progress.  As I had left home it had reached £818 including Gift Aid.  I was also greeted by Mel from Maggs.

As I looked round the 100 people I couldn’t see anyone else I recognised, for example from any of the other local churches.  Neither did I see some of the people I know from the Homelessness Forum.  Lots of people talked, as there were quite a number of individuals, who didn’t know anyone else.  I got talking to a couple of different men, who didn’t know anyone either, and were supporters of Worcester Warriors and had seen their publicity for this event. Also a younger woman who worked for a marketing company and was doing an article for her magazine. She lives in St John’s and spoke about the churches there.

The majority of people there to sleep were under 40, and only a small minority were over 55 as far as I could tell,

 

A general view from the South Stand

(with a glimpse of the custom-built cardboard shelter)

because we were all muffled up against the cold.  It must have rained a lot during the night as there were  huge  puddles  in the morning, but we were at least under cover.

The event began with a briefing by Mel about Maggs and Jonathan about St. Paul’s Hostel. This was at the level I already knew, but it was important to be said, as some of the participants might have come along for the adventure.  (Not everyone had been as generously sponsored.)  Maggs is bigger than providing meals, but it is a first port of call for advice, clothing etc. as well. Beggars in Worcester are not necessarily homeless.  Jonathan said that they have been working hard on counselling their residents, and have established that all score highly on childhood trauma indicators, which has contributed to lack of trust in helping agencies.  They are really pleased with outcomes, for example that far fewer people have been turned away in the last couple of years, and it isn’t any longer a violent place. In view of their work with the repercussions of extremely poor childhood experiences, we might ask ourselves when walking past someone sleeping on the streets – not ‘what are you doing?’, but ‘what happened to you?’  The third agency benefitting from the Sleep Out (Worcester Warriors charities) didn’t contribute at this point, but I found out during the evening that they support a dementia café on site, among other projects.

We were given a BBQ, provided by a local company. Another company arrived to provide breakfast the next morning, but it looked as though this had been something of a miscalculation as people hadn’t wanted to stay for it.

During the evening there was a touch rugby game to watch, once the local 5-a-side football teams had finished using the all-weather pitch.  However, it was beginning to get very cold on the terrace and people began putting on layers of clothes. I had the last serving of hot chocolate from the bar!  I managed to read a few chapters of a novel on my phone.

When we all eventually settled down in our bed-spaces, I was next to Lynne, the city councillor for Cathedral ward, who recognised me, from a visit to St Andrew’s a couple of years ago when she was Mayoress.  She had bravely borrowed a sleeping bag from the organisers, which proved to be very effective apparently.  During the night, I realised that my sleeping bag is about 50 years old, and it lacks some refinement – ie  is completely open at the head end!  I was sleeping on a cardboard box left over from my move from Shaftesbury, which I had spotted in the garage, and that did the trick.  Apart from the obvious hardness of the concrete it wasn’t cold – most people agreed – provided you didn’t stick your head out into the biting cold wind. Fortunately, I had many layers of soft clothes to wear. Another time I would take a proper pillow. The surface of the stand vibrated sometimes, but this was preferable to the trains in India!  One of the women I spoke to, who has a job with Worcester Warriors, had done sleep-outs before when working in Coventry, and she had brought a custom-built cardboard contraption, with a lid – and a spy-hole on the side. Although it looked cosy and was much-admired, I would have found it claustrophobic, I think.

I did manage to get some sleep, but I had to warm up from the cold of the evening first, and this made me very stiff. It gave me an insight into why homeless people have to congregate indoors during the evening.  I can’t say I felt heroic. Once I had decided to take part, I was going to manage.  It wasn’t at all pleasant, though. I came home and slept for nearly three hours in bed. I can rarely sleep during the day like that. Throughout the following day I was aware of being below par.  This was a reminder for me that homelessness is a key issue in caring for others.

This was a good fundraiser, and I expect they will have another one next year (this one was the second).  I will probably not take part. This is not because of the demanding experience. It really wasn’t that bad, even at my age!

However, I am extremely grateful to everyone who sponsored me, and I know there are many other good causes that members of our churches want to support - I don’t take your support for me for granted. I am glad I was there to represent the Methodist Circuit, but I do have other roles and responsibilities when I’m not on sabbatical!

Thank you all,                          

Helen