I took part in the Norwich Sleepout
“No one there failed to recognise the privilege of just spending one night, out of choice, like this”
First things first – one night in a secure car park, with the camaraderie of nearly 150 fellow fundraisers, information and hot food, (not to mention the dulcet tones of an Oasis cover) could never really replicate the experience of being homeless.
But in a climate where homelessness is rising at a disturbing rate and some students act appallingly towards the homeless community, every act of empathy means something. And it's no empty gesture money wise either, with the annual Sleepout's boosting adding more than £90,000 to the coffers of the End Youth Homelessness Network over the last four years.
THE NIGHT ITSELF: Rushing back from a shift as a Christmas elf, I was already exhausted and nervous about getting a fractured night's sleep. It was easy to see how privileged I was against the thousands of working homeless, and become amazed by how so many people can work tired but tirelessly for so little reward.
Then there was the fact that, in Carrow road, we were right opposite a Holiday inn, where there might conceivably be some people sheltering from the cold. I wondered what they'd think about the event, if they'd see it as a real show of sympathy or something well intentioned, but ill conceived, mimicking a daily reality.
But no one there, including the charity itself, failed to recognise the privilege of just spending one night, out of choice, like this, with the foundation saying:
''We recognise that Sleep Out is not the same as the real hardship faced by rough sleepers but it does give those participating the opportunity to see for themselves what it might feel like to be homeless.''
After being briefed about how the money raised on the night would go onto help homeless people, we were invited to tuck into hot dogs or chilli and listen to the free street music as we laid down the cardboard and made our beds for the night.
Even the weather was feeling charitable, with nothing but light drizzle interrupting the night. Although the cold crept in at about 3am, and cascades of coughs echoed around the Car Park, it was honestly an easier night than I was expecting – and still cold, tiring and miserable enough to put me in awe of the people who do it everyday.
How to help the whole year round
Of course, a one off is a one off, and despite The Benjamin Foundation’s brilliant new ‘Host your own’ scheme, not everyone can hold a Sleep out – and it shouldn’t be the only time you feel you're able to make a difference.
You could get involved with UEA’s own ‘Don’t be a Wasteman’ society, which regularly hosts foodbank, cans and waste collections, and has hosted panel events on homelessness.
In the city, The Norwich soup movement, which has spent the last year battling with the council to keep providing its service, is always looking for volunteers.
They also have a Paypal for financial donations, and an Amazon Wishlist
for essential items like Rucksacks, bowls and plates. The Benjamin Foundation itself hosts a variety of events throughout the year.
You can even buy a delicious meal from social Enterprise 'The Feed', which helps homeless people access long term housing, training and employment, as well as giving 100% of its profits to charity.
Lastly, although giving directly to a homeless person is an individual choice, here's an enlightening take on why you should seriously consider unconditional donation when you have the money spare – or you could treat someone to a meal, like Don't be a Wasteman founder and fellow Tab writer Rob Klim.