On a cold November night, more than 20 volunteers from NewVoiceMedia and Salesforce swapped their warm beds and homes for sleeping bags and the streets of London. We joined more than a thousand supporters for Centrepoint's Sleep Out 2016.
Centrepoint is the UK's leading charity for homeless young people, supporting 9,000 young people every year. Centrepoint helps 16-25 year olds into a safe place to live, gives them a health assessment and plans support for their individual mental and physical health needs.
The charity provides accommodation and life skills training to help young people get back into education, training and employment. Homeless young people can stay with Centrepoint for up to two years where they are supported on a path to more independence, a home and a job.
The Sleep Out offered us a small glimpse of the stark realities of homelessness – the harsh cold, the noise and the difficulty of sleeping. Our CEO Jonathan Gale and CFO Guy Sochovsky were amongst the 20-plus volunteers braving the cold. We bedded down for the night on the banks of the Thames between London landmarks Canary Wharf and the O2 Arena.
By intention, the Sleep Out did not mimic real homelessness and, for me, this is what helped carry its biggest message. The experience shone a spotlight on the safe and loving environments we have and take for granted. Despite having the chance to prepare, in the days leading up to the sleep out, I felt apprehensive about the night. I'm not great with the cold. I have a heater under my desk and am often spotted filling up a hot water bottle in the office kitchen. Some might say I over prepared, with two base layers, two over-sized jumpers, one pair of fleeced leggings, two pairs of jogging bottoms, two bobble hats, a scarf, gloves, ski mittens, a ski jacket, two sleeping bags and a large holdall full of spare layers (just in case). We were fortunate not to experience any rain and had a dry night. In reality, a homeless person has few belongings and must face bitter weather and damp conditions with the little they have. Every day.
I was overwhelmed with warm messages and calls from my friends and family wishing me well, asking me how I am and letting me know they're thinking of me. Reading the messages was heart-warming but also filled me with unease as I realised the reality of homelessness is lonely.
During the sleep out I had food and drink, a safe, guarded area to sleep in, the company of 1,000 supporters and the knowledge that this was just for a night. This is miles away from the vulnerability experienced by a homeless person coupled with the indefinite length of their plight. The morning after the sleep out I had a train ticket home, a warm flat, shower, clean clothes and a fridge full of food to look forward to. I had the day off work so didn’t need to struggle through my day on little sleep or worry about keeping up appearances.
Centrepoint estimate 25,000 young people could be at risk of homelessness this Christmas. The money raised will give more homeless young people a warm, safe place to stay and help them move forward in their careers and education.
Richard Utting, head of events at Centrepoint, said, “We’re so grateful to everyone who gave up their beds ...to raise money and awareness for the crucial issue of youth homelessness. It’s a scandal that in the 21st century there are still young people in the UK left with no option but to sleep rough and face the threat of violence, the elements and an uncertain future. The streets are no place for a young person. The money raised will help give vulnerable young people a safe place to stay and the support they need to turn their lives around in 2017”.Together, and supported by the NewVoiceMedia Foundation, our team raised over £7.5k which will help homeless young people with opportunities and a safe future.