Friday 11th November 2016 – Armistice Day – was a beautiful day in Harrogate with blue skies, autumn foliage still on the trees and that lovely golden autumnal quality to the light.
As soon as the sun went down the temperature dropped. Around 20 of us were meeting at 8pm to spend a night sleeping out – in our car park – as part of a year’s fund-raising and campaigning for Shelter. In my last blog I wrote about how many of us can relate to the stress caused by unstable housing. I guess it doesn’t get much more unstable than rough sleeping.
We had a good party atmosphere up to midnight or so. We were all well kitted-out with layers of clothing, we had camp fires, food and hot drinks and visitors called in to see us – colleagues, friends, the lovely crew from Nuffield Harrogate who brought us very welcome hot coffees.
And then we settled down for the night. Sleeping bags and survival bags on cardboard, ramshackle tarpaulin shelters. We all have a different story of how we found that night and this is mine.
Some of us fared better than others depending on where we’d pitched up
First the cold. The sheer bone-aching cold. Then the discomfort of lying on tarmac with only cardboard and a thin mat between us.
And then the rain. Some of us fared better than others depending on where we’d pitched up – I was lucky; I stayed fairly dry, woken only a few times by freezing sleety blasts of rain to the face. Others were saturated. We’d joked earlier about raffling a pitch in the doorway for Shelter – it would not have been a good investment – it was a gusty night and the doorway got a particular hammering from the driving rain.
And the noise – wind, traffic, other people, rain. Did I mention the rain?
And now why our experience is barely worth mentioning.
We planned well and kitted ourselves out properly. Some of us had ski gear, some had high performance cold weather clothing. We have the disposable income to have those things available to us.
We are a healthy bunch – we have doctors, dentists, good diets, exercise regimes, support networks. I can’t imagine spending last night outside and struggling with illness.We ate well prior to and on the evening of the sleep-out; we rarely don’t eat well. Cold AND hungry?
We were in a private car park and there were plenty of us. We weren’t vulnerable to being moved on, crime, violence or sexual assault. We used our office as support. We had private fully functioning loos. Washing our hands in hot water was bliss.
Most importantly we went home afterwards – all of us – to someone waiting for us, to hot water, soft beds, clean clothes and security.
The number of rough sleepers increased by 31% from 2014 to 2015
The number of rough sleepers increased by 31% from 2014 to 2015 with 3,569 sleeping out in autumn 2015 according to the Government (Statistical Release on Homelessness 25 February 2016).
Rough sleepers make up a very small proportion of people struggling with homelessness and inadequate housing. We had one horrible night of discomfort and then we went back to our own lives. Really, we never left them. Our principal objective in this year’s charitable activities was ‘raising awareness’. Twenty of us have had a very small insight into what rough sleeping might mean. Yes, we are aware.
If you would like to do so, you can donate to our Shelter fundraising here.
Carolynn Peace is a Residential Property Solicitor at Berwins