Student Sleepout: The night I was homeless
No, we are not the ‘Cardiff University Homeless Society’
Instead of hosting the usual Friday night pre-drinks, I swapped sambuca for a sleeping bag and Cava for cardboard.
With twenty-four other Cardiff University students and three members of the Cardiff Volunteering team we took to the streets of Cardiff – if the steps outside of the Students’ Union count as that. We joined the 7500 people who slept rough in Britain last year.
All of the volunteers gathered together in the Students’ Union, where we were given a thorough briefing on the true nature of life without a home by two speakers, Martin and Safe.
Both characters had experienced homelessness themselves, Martin still sleeping on floor space at The Huggard Centre, one of the local charities we were raising funds for. The ‘Huggard’ – as they affectionately coined it – is a space that empowers those who have been excluded, so that they may reach their full potential.
Safe, the younger of the two, looked like a student. In his mid-twenties, with tidy facial hair and a calm exterior, it was hard to imagine how he had ever slept in doorways. He shuffled around uncomfortably as he remembered feeling lonely and isolated, recounting having beer bottles thrown at him in the cold.
Martin was more than happy to chat. It was impossible to avoid feeling as though his talkativeness was a product of his long-winded isolation. He spoke of his extensive personal experience working for the Red Cross, local Christian projects that offer hot meals and how he enjoys listening to the ‘beautiful dawn chorus’ in the mornings.
We grabbed armfuls of old cardboard boxes and headed outside. I didn’t recall the Union steps as being that hard or cold when queuing for Flux, but once we were slotted in our sleeping bags, it was almost like being in bed. Sort of.
We were given copies of The Big Issue by the volunteer team and one girl even brought homemade brownies. We did a quiz and played Articulate to keep morale going in the cold, learning that momentum was very important whilst it was fresh.
After the novelty began to wear off, the thought of enduring several nights in a row in uncomfortable conditions was sobering. It seemed strange that in spite of their – albeit different – situations, both Safe’s and Martin’s power hadn’t seem weakened. The fact that the Student Sleepout experience didn’t replicate that of true homelessness only further magnified their relentless positivity.
Whilst we didn’t wake up to the ‘dawn chorus’ that Martin had so fondly spoken of, we were frequently stirred by drunken Friday-night revellers. They were (for the most part) supportive, chucking leftover change from the pub into the donations bucket and stopping to learn more about what we were doing and asking about the cause.
Others left more to be desired, such as one fresher shouting ‘Get a job!’ and many waking us up for what they presumably saw as their own fun. Amusing moments included being called the ‘Cardiff Uni Homeless Society,’ and a confused man explaining to his friend that we were ‘protesting the Syrian War’.
Getting off to sleep proved to be more of a challenge than originally anticipated. The noise of cars and passers-by was harder to ignore than I first thought. Even with a sleeping bag, a hat, a scarf and two thick coats it was freezing and exhausting.
The End Goal
In total we managed to raise an amazing £1060, smashing our original £500 target.
40% of those passing through homeless shelters are aged between eighteen and twenty-five, proving that is an issue for all students and young people.
Whilst we succeeded in finishing our 7am-7pm Sleepout, we had the luxury of one another’s company, a yellow-jacketed security guard from 10pm-4am, access to toilets and hot drinks at any time (my boyfriend even came over with a hot water bottle and some Reese’s peanut buttercups).
It was still hard to imagine how so many people endure a much worse experience than ours repeatedly, in even worse weather conditions, with many suffering from mental illness and personal issues too.
Homelessness is an affliction that has the potential to affect any of us, at any point in our lives. If you’d like to show your support then you can still donate here until November 8.
Having braved the cold for the night, I can assure you that all donations would be more than welcome.
Click here to view a video of the night’s events: