“….Wrapped up in a bag, another SleepOut in the night“
On the night of Saturday February 5th, the latest (9th) biennial Sponsored Doorway SleepOut took place, NOT in the churchyard of St Andrew’s Church, Chippenham, venue for the SleepOuts since 2012, but in the Bath Road car park, next to Doorway’s new location, The Citadel.
The objectives of these events are written about in detail in the piece about the 2020 SleepOut but, in short, they are about both fund-raising and raising awareness.
The number of ‘temporary rough sleepers’ was less than in the last few of these events, probably partly because of the general subduing effect of the pandemic on everything. A specific effect of Covid was that some of the sleepers took part outside at home rather than in the car park, on a different night, once their contagion permitted….
This year saw 27 ‘sleepers’ , 21 on site and 6 at home.
The event started with a welcome, housekeeping and a quiz about homelessness by Doorway’s Director, Jo Kitching. This was pretty eye-opening for many there. We were then delighted to welcome back (after absence in 2020 through illness) BBC Antiques Roadshow’s Marc Allum. This year, rather than a ghost story, he read some poems from the Doorway poetry anthology ‘Come On Through’ (published 2017).
Then it was time for the ‘sleepers’ to settle down in their combinations of cardboard boxes, sleeping bags and tarpaulins (but no tents allowed). The most obvious problem was the fierce lighting in the small covered part of the car park. Maybe it’s movement-sensor-activated, or will go off at midnight, we thought. And hoped. It didn’t switch off, all night…. The second problem was the noise at times. First off with some boy racers doing manoeuvres, though they cleared off fairly quickly. Then, later on, turning-out time at the nightclub, around 3.30 ish. It did rain, quite heavily, but the ‘pitches’ were under the canopy, so were dry enough apart from what blew across or dripped out of the guttering. And the temperature was not too bad for January but there was a stiff wind.
It would seem that most people achieved at least some sleep before rising at 6ish for bacon or halloumi rolls, and a nice cuppa. All felt that they had gained and/or learned something from the night. The most common theme (apart from complaining about the light) was an increased realisation of the vulnerability of the situation, and that despite the on-site security. It didn’t take much imagination to imagine how much worse it would feel without that ‘safety net’. And all were of course aware that they could now go home to their nice warm secure homes, and to a proper bed.
Thanks again to the military lads from Lyneham who provided security all night. They really were important to us and for reducing, as already said, the anxiety levels of the sleepers.
Undoubtedly, the event was a great success again, and it raised £9000 plus Gift Aid. Some words from the sleepers, and a few more images from the night:
Thoughts before the ‘sleeping’:
“I don’t know who breaks my heart the most – the ones who come in every week and just break down and cry because their kids are in care and they can’t see them; or the ones who tell you the most horrific story, you say “oh my goodness” and they say “it’s how it is” and they shrug.”L, Doorway volunteer
“I worked in Glasgow soup kitchens from when I was 17 for three years. It was in the night, so there were the prostitutes and all that, and I would go round and give them gloves, soup, food, whatever they wanted, chat to them….So it’s always something I’ve been interested in… it’s hard to get time with three kids…. but this is my way of helping now”K, from The Rise Trust
“I’ve brought as little as possible. I’ve got the clothes I’m wearing, a sleeping bag, a cardboard box, and that’s it. I want it to experience it as close as possible to the same as they do. I won’t get a true understanding of what they go through unless I go through it myself.”K, from The Rise Trust
“It’s going to be wet tonight. You can dress for the cold, but wet gets into you.] If you’re a rough sleeper there’s no point in looking at the weather forecast, because you’re going to have to be out in it anyway, you’ve got no choice.”Another K, from The Rise Trust
“When I did it 4 years ago, I thought, next time round, the two boys, who are now 14 and 11, will be ripe for doing it themselves, it actually might be quite a nice thing for them to do and experience. I think the experience of just doing it knowing that you have a home and you’ve got a safe space to go back to, I think that’s the key thing that I wanted them to appreciate that it’s not just about the sleeping rough, it’s about your whole sense of having a space where you belong and you’re safe and you’re loved and all of the rest of it”.A, Doorway staff member
“I have been surprised by how generous people have been on the sponsorship front. I think a lot of people want to support homeless charities….A lot of people are really struggling at the moment, the food banks are getting overrun, so they’re thinking even lower than that, about having no job, no housing.”K and K, The Rise Trust
“When I can I will always support Doorway like they’ve always supported me… I think I’ve been coming here about 12 years now, it was an understanding of where I could get help and how people understood me, and being able to talk to people, because at that time I had no-one to talk to at all. When I first started coming here I was living 15 miles from here and I used to walk in to access some food and to access some company. The bag I was able to take away helped me survive the next few days until the next session. That meant absolutely everything to me. I don’t think I’d be here now without the help of Doorway. I’ve seen a lot of good people who have gone. We’ve lost people who years ago helped me out when I was on the streets, and made sure I was OK”B, Doorway guest
Some of the read-out poetry:
You were like us, both good and bad,
Made of joy and painful things.
Like all of us, we knew you had
Both devil’s horns and angel’s wings
So many words are left unsaid
Your life a short unfinished prayer
For happiness and your own bed
So nearly there, so nearly there”
(‘So Nearly There; for K’, by G)
“Keep on staring straight ahead.
How long can you keep on with no roof, no bed
Stumble onward ‘til you find a hedge
To last the night.
Until Doorway puts its sign outside;
A place of warmth and comfort
for the homeless. To provide
a helping hand, a guiding step,
a human smile of welcome.”
Where people are happy to
know you for who you are
not for what you have become”
(From ‘Doorway Was There’, by J.)
Thoughts in the morning:
“It was alright. It’s only semi-real, isn’t it? We’re going back to our homes and being picked up by loved ones. It was quite interesting because there were people coming through, a few hecklers, verbal abuse….. Couldn’t hear all of it but some of it was verging on ‘not nice’. But then there was one guy came through and said “Doorway saved my life”,”wouldn’t be here without it”, words to that effect. That was quite moving really, quite nice to confirm what we’re doing it for….I had this nice box, and a tarpaulin because we knew it was going to rain, but actually we were under cover. But you could hear that rain and think “what would it be like to be actually out in that?”, and actually taking that abuse with nobody to protect you, no-one to pick you up afterwards. I was lying here and I was thinking “I feel completely safe, I feel protected, I’ve got people I know all around me, I know I can get into Doorway if I need to.” So it’s not real but it’s a bit of a reminder. You have to strip away all of that protection, and think, God, what would it really be like?”D, Doorway volunteer
”I’d never wish it on anybody to be in that situation.”V from The Rise Trust
“It was OK. Wasn’t too cold, but it was quite noisy. Coming out of the nightclub to their cars and revving up. And the light…”M, Doorway volunteer
“That wind…I didn’t get much sleep”S, Doorway staff member
“… it was the security thing. Much as I was trying to sleep, even though I knew it was safe because we had the guys watching over us, it was just that you couldn’t properly relax and settle not knowing what was going to happen. So we had the noise of the cars, didn’t we, and there were people kept passing through. Some drunk guy stopped and we were thinking “what’s he doing?”. Then we did wake up and heard one guy kicking off. I had finally fallen asleep and that woke me up again. I remember just lying there thinking “what’s going to happen? Is he going to do something?”. It wasn’t a thing that I’d thought about, the fact that when you’re at home, you’re locked in, you’re alright, you’re safe. The chap who came around about midnight, who said he used to sleep there, the Doorway chap, he said “people used to do this to me, people used to do that”…..I put my earphones in because I actually felt safe with the guards there, but I wouldn’t have put them in if I hadn’t known they were there. I wouldn’t have slept….As women, we feel there’s extra danger there”K from The Rise Trust
“We knew we were coming inside in the morning, we didn’t have to find the next meal, so if we came in cold and hungry from outside we had instant respite from that. The night after was horrendous outside, so again that reaffirmed that we were getting away so lightly….We talked with the kids about the slightly safer feeling [of being in their own garden] but I think they did feel a little unnerved by it even so. I read the kids the stories on the Crisis site, and it’s got Kev’s story. When I first read that…it’s particularly hard going, that story. I read that to them because I wanted them to learn about that whole thing – never judge until you’ve walked in a person’s shoes. And in that story there’s a bit about the horrible things that people can do to homeless people on the streets, without any thought, and how that feels”A, Doorway staff member
“For me the hardest thing was the noise, how much noise there was – it was the cars. It’s incessant, they just don’t stop……..It was the lights for me… we were next to the young ones, it’s like when you turn the light off they know it’s automatically bedtime, but because the lights are on, they automatically stay awake. I was thinking as well, when I was trying to settle down, there was no way I could do this. I mean without the guards, just having someone there, having all those people there, I was thinking, if you were just tucked away somewhere, you’d be panicked, wouldn’t you?Others from The Rise Trust
Thanks to everybody who took part in the SleepOut and those who facilitated it. It was a great effort. Sadly, as homelessness shows no sign of being eliminated any time soon, we expect to return with this event in a couple of years’ time….
[MAS, March 2022]