Burton YMCA is my business charity of the year and on Saturday, 11 November myself and fellow local business men and women, known as the “Sleepout Sistas and Mistas” swapped our nice, comfy, warm beds for a cardboard box, on the concrete, out in the cold to raise money and awareness.It was a great night. There was camaraderie, singing, sharing stories, laughter and enjoying a nice hot cup of tea and a cookie before we bunkered down in the cold, albeit with many layers of clothing on, in sleeping bags and with the knowledge that we were safe and secure. We even discussed doing a more extreme version next year to mark the 10th anniversary of the YMCA Sleep out, which involves sleeping in the graveyard of St Modwen’s Church in the town centre – this is fully exposed to the elements with no toilets! However, when we all awoke to pouring rain, the mood towards this idea was much more subdued, in fact it was a definite NO!
The night went as well as expected, I got a few hours of sleep and woke at around 4 to wind howling through my box, as I had not fastened one end – not the best of moves. As I made my way to the loo, I found I had to step over Gerald who had unfortunately fallen off his box in a big gust of wind. Luckily no damage was done and he continued to sleep where he fell, until everyone else started to get up, not long after 5 am.
If I am honest the event is not that challenging, well not for one night only, and is far removed from the reality of having to do it night after night – fearful of what might happen, where the next meal comes from, will I have anywhere to wash and brush my teeth or will anyone want to talk to me or even acknowledge my existence. These were the sort of thoughts that ran through my head and I couldn’t even begin to contemplate what it would feel like to face this as a reality.
For me, it doesn’t matter if it’s a challenge or not, as long as it gets results – raising money for an amazing cause, but more importantly raising awareness of the fact that having to sleep rough is day to day life for some people. It is happening right on our doorsteps and is on the increase. Over 250,000 people are homeless in the UK, with nearly 4200 who sleep rough on the streets of England, this is double the amount in 2010 and up 16% on last year, whilst 1 in 5 young people are sofa surfing.
The opinion of homeless people also needs to change; they are not all drunks or have drug addictions. Many are people just like me or you who have fallen on bad times. It only takes a few bad experiences like losing a job, a marriage breakdown, falling out with your parents to start a chain reaction that has you looking down a long dark tunnel of which there is no light at the end.
If it wasn’t for charities like the YMCA these people would be lost from society and have no hope. Burton YMCA shelters 71 people in the Burton on Trent area, 365 days of the year. They also provide mediation and counselling services, a chaplaincy no matter what religion you are or of none, a food bank, charity shops and education and training and most importantly hope. Their moto is to support people to get back onto their feet and into society.
If you would like to help and get involved you don’t have to wait until Sleep out 2018, although it will be a good ‘un as it will be their 10 year sleep out anniversary. Fancy trying to change our minds and join us on an extreme sleep out in a graveyard?!!