As I was getting ready to go out Friday night, sitting on the edge of my bed pulling on a second pair of socks – it struck me how perverse the situation I was about to put myself in really was. Warm in my house, stocking up on snacks and drinks. James and I were about to spend the night sleeping rough on the streets of Wolverhampton to raise money and awareness for P3Charity.
P3 charity and social enterprise. It started in Wolverhampton and now works nationally with the homeless. They run hostels and help people from all walks of life promoting independent living and supporting some of the most vulnerable and at risk people in our towns and cities – And those homeless that we were supporting Friday night, and that they support daily don’t have a second pair of socks to pull on, they don’t have the advantage of wondering if they would be warm enough in the 2 t-shirts and hoodie I was already wearing – they have to just get on with it and so I know my night sleeping “rough” was in luxury compared to some.
8pm – Getting going
Arriving at their hostel in Thornley Street at around 8pm we were greeting by an already amassed group of about 45 other charity workers volunteers, residents and ex residents of the hostel readying themselves for the night ahead. After a welcome from the Mayor, and a cup of tea, old duvets and cardboard were distributed and we headed towards the civic centre, and St Peters Square which was to be our base for the night. Everyone was in good spirits as we looked to prepare our beds. Those that had taken part the previous year staked their claim to their spots and we found a bit of floor just under the overhang of the civic centre…. shelter of sorts.
A layer of cardboard (or camping mat for those that had them), a folded duvet and a sleeping bag made up the majority of the beds. Others opted to stay in camping chairs – or as one volunteer did – and air bed (cheat!!!). And we got down to the business of being homeless for the night. The first couple of hours were fun as we got to know the people around us random dancing broke out in the form of an Irish Jig and people dared not use the port-a-loo for fear of being of spun.
Time drags on
People were in good spirits but as it crept passed midnight and everyone started to settle down reality started to creep in… I was there safe in the knowledge that my car was only 5 minutes down the road, that a hot shower and a comfy bed was waiting for me once this was over… but for the estimated 231 people who look for shelter every night in Wolverhampton, they don’t have that security.
P3 have 21 beds in their local hostel, and 5 No Second Night Out supported “emergency” beds, but that still leaves over 200 people each night out in the cold with nothing but their own thoughts for company. It was midnight and I only had 6 more hours to pass but the reality for some is this is their daily routine, and when you’ve nothing but time stretched before you, time with nothing to look forward to and nothing to think about other than where your next meal will come from, will I be safe this evening where will I go in the morning it is little wonder that some turn to the oblivion of drink or drugs to get them through it….
1am – and so the bell tolls
The noise from the pubs and clubs kept drifting over disturbing those trying to sleep. People walked through , talking to us- and admittedly they were probably more confused by finding nearly 50 people in a doorway in sleeping bags than they would have been by one so were more open to chat and as the night wore on I became more and more aware of the chiming of St Peters clock – every 15 minutes and somewhere in the distance there is an argument and sirens….
The local police popped by a few time throughout the night, they were aware we were there and they came by to check everything was alright. At one point two PCSO’s came over while a trio of lads leaving the city a little worse for wear wandered through – they were jovial and put some money in the collection bucket the officer was holding and one of the residents joked – “you stopped me from doing that the other day officer!” – and that joke highlighted another question for me- we were there as an organised group, would the police have come to check in if I were a solo – really homeless – sleeper and if not who would? And if they did stumble across me out alone would they check if I was ok or would they just have moved me on?
3am – Get a fucking Job!
I was still awake at 3am when a pissed man wondered the opposite side of the square. He stopped as he notices us and starts screaming abuse. Apparently it was people like us that was everything that was wrong with society (…the irony) and that we should all “GET FUCKING JOBS”.
He shouted and argued at us but with himself for a few minutes – offering to fight us all if we wanted to go over to him – big brave man wasn’t brave enough to come over and find out what we were all actually doing there and unsurprisingly no one took him up on the offer and eventually he left.
We’d all ignored him, mumbling between ourselves what an idiot he was, safety in numbers had kept us secure but I felt genuinely aggrieved and I could tell others did too. I was scared for the people he may encounter who were alone. What would he do with his aggressiveness when stumbling across an individual alone, cold, hungry and tired? Where do they go to sleep safely when there are odious people like him walking the streets?
The bigotry this one person displayed was awful and it highlighted the stigma that follows homelessness everywhere – that somehow it is a lifestyle choice to be out on the streets. What people fail to realise is that there is cracks we could all fall down anywhere. Most of the population is only one pay packet away from financial hardship and it only takes one slip, one bad decision, one wrong turn and you too could find yourself in need of the support charities like P3 provide.
I was almost there once myself, through no fault of my own – 10+ years ago and only by the grace of god did I have the support of my family and a floor I could sleep on that kept a roof over my, and my sons head.
To contrast the shouty man though others who came across us stopped to find out what we were doing, some left donations and others insisted on shaking the hand of everyone involved restoring some of my faith in the good of the masses.
4:30am – Here comes the rain
From 4am I managed to start to doze, on and off, with my sleeping bag pulled up right over my head to keep the breeze off my face, waking every time the clock chimed.
Cold surprisingly wasn’t too much of an issue, I remember thinking how lucky we were with the weather – for an October night it was surprisingly mild just a bit of drizzle early on but around 4:30am a rain shower hit. It came down suddenly and there was mad scramble to get under the hang over from those in the open – the wind blew spray into where we were laying and I was again wide awake.
I spent the next hour lying, listening to the murmur of conversation of those around me, to the bars emptying their bottle bins with a clatter and an argument between a group of women somewhere in the city that by the time it reached me sounded like a gaggle of geese squabbling.
5.30am Packing up
At 5:30am the last of our visitors appeared, an obviously drunk young lady with a story of a fight with her boyfriend who had walked miles into town and just wanted somewhere to sit for 5 minutes and promised not to call the police on us if we let her rest on the end of one of the sleeping bags.
It took us a minute to get her to understand that we weren’t really homeless and we were there for charity but we let her sit for a while, a broken night sleep further disturbed and the group started to stir and pack up for the short walk back to the hostel and breakfast…..
Sleeping rough so others don’t have to
In 21st century Britain the fact that in a supposed first world country we still have so many people eking out an existence on the streets is heart breaking. There are many reasons as to why people end up homeless but it is charities like P3 that break the cycle that keeps them there. They work hard to ensure that the most social excluded are given the support they need, be it in their hostels or through their outreach workers, to live their lives to their full potential. One day you may find yourself in a position that you need the support and help of an organisation like P3 and this is why I chose to take part Friday night, raising just a little bit of money for and hopefully a bit of awareness of those people who need the support NOW.
I spent a night sleeping rough in the hope that now and in the future others wont have to and I would be grateful if you could do your bit by supporting P3 and other homeless charities in the work they do. Groups and organisations like these are always after volunteers who are able to give a bit of their time, or you can find other ways of helping through practical and financial donations (you can still sponsor James and me if you like).
Finally if you spot someone sleeping rough, don’t be a dick screaming abuse like the idiot we encountered, call Streetlink on 0300 500 0914 and give as much information as you can – this support line will connect rough sleepers to local services hopefully getting them the advice and support that they need.