I ‘slept’ outside Sheffield cathedral to raise awareness of homeless, so writing this post to share that awareness.
We started with a meeting about the sleepout / Archer project. Then went outside about 8pm to set up. About 10 we had a tour of the facilities the Archer project has at the cathedral; kitchen, laundry and showers. Then I went out for the night.
Of course, this was not an authentic experience as we could have gone inside cathedral at anytime. Really on streets at night, would have no access to toilets or running water to wash hands. I had my house keys in bag and could have jumped into taxi at anytime and been in my bed in 15minutes. Also got to sleep in a group, so I did not feel scared. We laid in row against cathedral wall to shelter us, between two places where wall jutted out either side of stained glass window; it was cosy! It was my first time sleeping directly under stars. Looking up could see architecture of the cathedral and stars. Therefore for us this really was about an experience rather than real hardship.
The biggest discomfort for me was the hardness of the floor. I had a camping mat, which could feel concrete through. The zip of borrowed sleeping bag would not connect so, did not have a bag to get in. Most of night bag was on top, skewed to side of me. After many hours I did try, putting sleeping bag underneath me for extra padding. I was wrapped in cosy fleece blanket. Then had a plastic sheet over to keep it all dry. I was so uncomfortable, that constantly wanted to change position. Rather awkward as sandwiched between two people and when moved plastic sheet rustled, so did not want to disturb people. We were lucky not colder and barely rained. People sleepout in much worse conditions. I may have felt like could have had better equipment, but people sleepout on cardboard with no sleeping bag.
I did not feel vulnerable as we were in a group, with people awake keeping an eye on us. We had our bags between the cathedral wall and sleeping bags. As we were all in a row in front of bags; no one could get to them without stepping over us. Whereas on the street alone, it would be much harder to protect belongings.
There is not necessarily a shortage of accommodation, but people can not always make use of it. People may feel safer on the street than in a hostel. There were some spice users around who, were up all night rather than being in accommodation. Rules in accommodation surrounding being sober; are a barrier to addicts.
It was not as noisy as I had been dreading; but, it was never quiet. It was mainly the discomfort that kept me awake. At about 6 we were all forced to pack up. A message that the Archer project was keen to get across was how tough dealing with life is when sleep deprived. We all the next day did not feel very motivated to do anything; therefore organising things like benefits is a really difficult task for rough sleepers who are sleep deprived. Of course the more sleep deprived, get harder it is to function. This is where the Archer project comes into support clients in contacting the people they need to, completing forms, allowing them to use the address to receive post, phone access, access to electric to charge mobile if have one, along with more basic services like food and washing facilities. On the tour we also saw medical room where doctors, dentists, chiropodists etc… come to on different days, giving time for free to treat people.
In summary, it was an enlightening experience. However despite this and my research into homelessness for lent posts in 2017, it is still a complex subject.