Sleep Outs

On the eve of Halloween, it’s finally too cold for the infamous ‘Sleep Outs’.

A level of severe discomfort has grown across my whole body recently. I feel it deeply and I feel it personally. I’ve spent weeks now trying to explore why ‘Sleep outs’ make me feel this way. I think back to when I was living in a Homelessness Charity and was asked my opinion on them, and even though I participated in the local soup runs (which have their own problems), something about the sleep outs made me cringe even more. I think it’s the idea that people think they can understand rough sleeping from one night in a church hall, or one night in a safe school field.

From this point on, I’ll be referring to these sleep outs in regards to rough sleeping, I am refusing to say Homelessness, as Homelessness encapsulates far far more than rough sleeping and we’d be doing a disservice to thousands of people by perpetuating the stereotype that homelessness is only rough sleeping. Maybe that’s another reason I dislike these sleep outs, it’s based on the idea that ‘the homeless’ are bushy bearded dirty men with one shoe on the streets, and it’s not.

I wonder though if it’s even deeper than that. I genuinely believe that sleep outs cause harm. It causes harm to all those people who are experiencing rough sleeping because by ‘proving’ you can ‘cope’ in a safe school field, with a tent and a sleeping bad, and often activities/yoga/music etc makes anyone who is roug

h sleeping feel like utter shit because they might not be able to cope as well. And the reality is that the two are not comparable – your sleep outs are in no way comparable to sleeping rough. To not knowing where you’re going to get food, not knowing which dickhead professional you’re gonna have to tick boxes with, sleeping fully clothed every night, not knowing if your back can take carrying anything more, trying to remember where the public toilets are open and till what time, so you don’t have to take a shit in public. I don’t understand how anyone can think that a sleep out would benefit anyone who has slept rough? When I was rough sleeping, I didn’t need a bunch of god like saviours to sleep in a field so they could pretend they empathise, I needed a safe home and some vague support with my life (predominately my mental health).

And, I hear you say, well it’s a fundraiser, so we as charities acknowledge it’s not the same but it’s a relevant fundraiser to raise money so we can help people get housed and supported. I. Call. Rubbish.

If a homelessness charity is spending thousands upon thousands of pounds housing someone, and supporting them, you’re not doing your job well enough. There are exceptions to this, exceptions I support whole heartedly, but can you REALLY, hand on heart say that you’re NOT just longing out the cycle of homelessness? I don’t think you can, I think when I have first hand heard staff say things like ‘Oh, they’re back again, surprise surprise.’ And then go on to explain the 3 hostels they’ve been placed in, I wonder why you’re so insistent that ‘the homeless’ are the issue? Rather than you? I guess because it’s really hard to think you’re doing a bad job when your intent is so good. Maybe with that good intent, you could explore better options.

Homelessness Law, to use the colloquial term, is banging. Perfect? No. Do councils still try and not follow it? Yes. But it’s there, and ready to be used by anyone. Let me say that again for the people at the back, Homelessness Law can be used by anyone. You don’t have to have a law degree, you can use the law to get the best for you client, if you are prepared too. I wonder why you aren’t…

If you spent that sleep out evening, training all your staff and supporters in Homelessness Law, and every single one of those people who attended got just 1 person housed, well I bet that stat would be higher than that charities whole year figures. But instead, the homelessness charities are CHOOSING to pump yet more money into a system that repeatedly traumatises clients, institutionalises them, degrades them and still, doesn’t get them housed. The difficulty is every so often your charity does do good, you’ll get a great quote for your socials and you’ll feel amazing, but I’d love to know for how many clients you’ve got on your system, how many of them have you housed in their own home, comparatively to those stuck in the system.

That makes me angry, and sad. Those emotions are okay, in fact they’re good. It means I can try and do something about it. It means I’ve not been completely desensitized yet to the rubbish of the homelessness sector.

There is so much more that could be said on this, and I’m sure this will upset/piss off people, and I’m not really that sorry. I hope if you’re one of those pissed off/upset people, you’ll explore that and ask yourself why. I could spend hours discussing this.

For clarification: I’m not against homelessness charities, I’m not against some supported accommodation, I’m not against support workers. I guess I’m more ‘for’ giving people what they need and have a right too, a safe suitable place they can call home, a base for which they then can access any support if they need it.

– Shannon