According to the the UK government, over 3,500 people slept rough on any one night across England in 2015. West London Day Centre (WLDC), an organization working to combat homelessness, opens their doors to homeless guests once a week to offer a safe space for people to sleep for the night. In an effort for people to gain a better understanding of the difficulties of sleeping on the street, WLDC hosted a Sleep Out in their facility on a Friday night in October.
Carl McDowell and Catherine Hurley from our London Office took part in the Sleep Out raising £1215 for the night shelter. This money will be used to support the guests of WLDC to help them move into more permanent housing and onto a better chapter in their lives. We sat down with Carl and Cat after the sleep out to hear about their experiences. They shared what motivated them to participate, why it is so important and challenges they encountered.
Why did you sign up to do this?
Cat: It seemed like a really good challenge, it’s not something I’ve ever done before and an awesome opportunity to raise money for WLDC. I don’t always get the chance to take part in volunteering opportunities as I manage a large team across three countries, so it was a good opportunity to give up my own time for an amazing cause.
Carl: I thought getting involved with volunteering would be a great way to get to know my colleagues.
How did you feel about sleeping rough for the night?
Cat: I always thought I was grateful to have a home, a comfortable bed and warmth. I think when it’s 3am and you’re lying on the ground and the wind is hitting your face that you really realise just how lucky you are. That also these things aren’t a given, sometimes it’s so easy in the world we live in to feel deserving of material things, yet there are people without these simple things every night and that is really emotional.
Carl: The ground is hard, and we were spoilt with a sleeping bag and mat from Zendesk. The people sleeping rough only have what they can find, so this experience gives us a lot more perspective on how hard it is for them. We got to do this in a safe environment, with people looking after us, a toilet to use, and friends around us. A rough sleeper has none of this. So it’s really good to know how much of a benefit the program the WLDC gives. They have a safe place to sleep each night, get to have a sense of community at a hot meal and then then give them the support they need to get them back into work and housing.
Why do you feel doing this is important?
Cat: Being able to experience what people are going through on a daily basis instead of the easy route which is to ignore it. On the way to work we walk past people with the assumption that they are different to us, when actually these are just people like you and me that have had worse luck. We are all one step away from being homeless and that could be me in 6 months time. It is something we can keep ignoring.
Carl: This was not only a good way to help raise money for those experiencing homelessness, but it gives those who sleep out a glimpse into what it would be like to be a rough sleeper. Now that we have been through this we can talk to them with compassion and understanding.
What did you get out of this experience?
Cat: It was a very humbling experience. I never want the huge feeling of gratitude to leave me and be dragged back to not feeling truly thankful for everything I have in life and constantly wishing for more.
Has this experience changed your view and understand of homelessness?
Cat: Yes, I got home late on the tube and often walk past homeless people and usually just put my head down and walk on. On Saturday night, the day after our sleep out challenge, I put 50p in a gentlemen’s cup who was sleeping rough and asked if he wanted a sleeping bag. He said yes, I ran home, picked up the stuff Zendesk supplied me with for the sleep out, stopped to grab him a cup of tea and delivered them to him. Before meeting with people on the night of the sleep out that are going through being homeless I had a stupid fear that it was patronizing and that we were very different people. It gave me the confidence to go up to someone and ask if they wanted help rather than being intimated of how they would react.
Carl: Yes definitely, especially when the two people from the WLDC came in and asked us what we thought the reasons for homelessness were. It really expands your ideas of how easy it is for anyone to become homeless including myself. I’m looking forward to participating in more volunteering and helping where I can to tackle this problem.
What was the most challenging part of the evening?
Carl: It was cold, the worst part was my nose was cold and I had to use the beanie ear flaps to try and cover my nose.
Cat: I really missed having a pillow. Such a small thing, but made it much harder to sleep.
Thank you to Cat and Carl for getting out of your comfort zones and participating in the WLDC Sleep Out. Want to take part in a sleep out? Check out their website to learn more about how to get involved with WLDC.