As you are aware, I am new to Restore York and the whole beautiful city of York having moved here from Essex in October 2020. Already I feel very much at home here. But what has blown me away is the level of support through our social media. I was bowled over by the hundreds of people who followed the sleep out. I want to say a personal thank you for your support and welcoming me to York. Thank you!
When I signed up for the CEO Sleep Out, I was determined to do something quite hard to show my total solidarity for the men and women who have to sleep rough every night as a way of survival in life. I have had extensive experience of serving alongside many rough sleepers over the years. I thought I had picked up lots of helpful tips on what to do and how to survive a night outside in very cold temperatures. Much of that learning was indeed very helpful and meant I fared pretty well. But there were several aspects I had to learn the hard way, so thought I’d share a few thoughts with you as you read this blog.
I wore what I had been wearing that day. No special clothing or layers. When I set out, I was determined to take a kit list that would fit in one carry bag. If I really were rough sleeping, I would have to carry my kit with me all day. Too much and it would be a burden; too little and I’d struggle overnight. I think I got it pretty right as I was able to stay warm despite wind chill of -1C.
The first thing that caught me out was how fast your phone battery drains when it is cold. I went from 100% charge to 60% charge in next to no time. I soon learnt to keep my phone in my sleeping bag. Thankfully I had a battery pack with me so that helped me charge the phone back up again. Of course, it is easy for me to charge my phone or battery pack when living in a home. But I know from experience how hard it is for those on the streets to find a charger and be around long enough to get to full charge.
My mobile phone was great to pass away several hours of quiet. I could stream films or read an eBook. When you have no one to talk with and hours to spend, it is great to be able to use your phone as a mobile entertainment centre. I was already pretty well equipped in this area, as I have not had a TV for 20 years, I do not have home broadband, and I do not have subscription to Netflix or Amazon Prime. These are my own life choices, but actually served me pretty well when having to sleep out for the night.
I wisely had a thermos flask of hot tea. Lovely to warm me up when cold. But again, I have a kettle in my kitchen with running water. Many of street rough sleepers have to rely on the kindness of some local food shops. That has been even harder as many food and beverage firms have had to close due to Covid. A hot cup of tea is not so simple to achieve.
When setting out your pitch in the daylight, everything looks simple. But during the night when it is dark, it is really important you know where your various pieces of kit are, and that they are easy to hand so you do not have to go much outside your sleeping bag. I did eventually get myself organised.
During the night there are all sorts of sounds that disturb you. From owls hooting to two foxes having a fight. There was a beauty in the stillness of the night, but I was glad to be in a location that I knew was totally safe and secure. That is not always the way from those rough sleeping, as I know they can get attacked, have water thrown over them or even people urinating on their bedding. I find this abhorrent.
One challenge is managing your own toilet routines. I was determined to stay out doors all night. I was fortunate to have a bathroom in my home where I could go before and after the sleep out. But for many on the streets, this is not a luxury they have. Finding an open public convenience is a real challenge, especially as many have been closed due to Covid restrictions. Using the street is an option, but if caught may carry a penalty, plus it becomes a health risk for the general public.
I am aged over 50, and so the challenge of sleeping out was a big ask. When I did awake at dawn, to the glorious sound of the bird’s dawn chorus, it took me nearly 20 minutes to move my back from lying down to standing up! My back was so stiff and sore that it took me two days at home to get it working again. If I really were having to rough sleep, I would not have that luxury.
Over the years, I have known hundreds of rough sleepers. It has been a privilege to serve alongside them and help them in some very tough situations. There has been so many occasions I have had to source clean clothing or bedding. I have had to make ‘pot noodles’ at midnight for an emergency snack. I don’t know how many thermos flasks I have had to fill (often with tons of sugar added!). Spending a night out only reaffirms to me how hard it is to live on the streets, and how valuable it is for those who reach out in kindness and love to those so many ignore, marginalise and abuse.
As CEO at Restore, I want to do all I can to help those who have fallen on hard times, to get back up and move forward positively in their lives. We provide homes; not a room, but a home where they are loved and supported. We desire to give our residents hope, so they can dream of a better future, and then achieve it.
One thing we cannot do without is the support of our amazing supporters. You! Every Facebook or Twitter ‘like’ is so appreciated. Just keep on clicking ‘like’ as they encourage me and my team so much. If you can share posts or tweets with others in your network, that would also be such an encouragement. I just want to personally thank each of our supporters for being there for our residents. Thanks.
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