On Friday night I took part in the YMCA Central Herts’ Sleep Easy, with 5 of my work colleagues. The aim is that people sign up to raise money & awareness & spend the night sleeping on the street, so that others don’t have to. The above photos are some of the ones I took through the course of the evening.
We arrived at the Galleria in Hatfield shortly after 7 & part of our team were already setting up our camp for the night. We decided to set up a group of boxes, one for each of us, but then figured that the boxes were big enough for some of us to share, which would increase the volume of body heat two fold. The first 2 hours we were all there was used to create & decorate our box homes, in the hope of winning some prizes. Our team decorated our boxes with a luau or tiki hut theme, complete with fairy lights. Around us we had a Paddington, a Thomas the Tank Engine, Finding Nemo, a Dog bed, a cardboard tent & a few others I can’t remember. After the judging of the boxes we had time for some Zumba to keep warm & then some games for fun. After the games we set out to sort out our sleeping arrangements, and people started settling in for the night.
I started the night wearing 2 layers, with 3 more in my bag, but I was really hoping I wasn’t going to need them. I did! By the time we all crawled into our boxes & sorted out our sleeping bags/blankets the reality of the situation was starting to sink in with me. All my friends had been telling me how brave or how crazy I was for doing this, telling me all of the things that were/could go wrong, how cold I would be, the risk I was putting myself at, etc & now it was starting to feel real & more than a little bit scary. The area we were doing the sleep out was on a very public route, where loads of people – drunk people – were destined to pass on their way home from the clubs. What would happen when they discovered us? Then there was the cold. Sure, we had our layers & our sleeping bags & our cardboard boxes, but we were bound to feel the cold, right? Add onto that the discomfort of sleeping on tarmac – well, I guess that was the point, really. We were supposed to be cold, scared & uncomfortable. And I was.
Shortly after midnight we crawled into our sleeping bags (wearing 4 layers) & tried in vain to get comfortable. I settled in with a bit of a heavy heart because I was tired, but I knew I wasn’t going to be getting any sleep, not because of the cold, but because it was too light & far too noisy. We were under a lit canopy, with a very well lit building straight across from us – which the people from the Y told us would not be going out all night. Behind us is one of the main roads through Hatfield, the A1M & there were semi trucks zooming up & down the road constantly, with no sign of let up. The funny thing was that in the hotel, before we went to the Sleep Easy site they made fun of me for bringing a book, but I sure was glad I had one now!
The first hour or so was pretty easy, just lying there listening to the traffic & the people around us talking (wishing they would shut up, so we could try to sleep!), then the muscle cramps started. My legs were cramping like crazy, my sleeping bag didn’t zip up & there was a draught that I couldn’t seem to eradicate. By now I wasn’t very comfortable & was starting to get a little worried. We tossed & turned trying in vain to get comfortable, now having a better understanding of what it must be like to be homeless & have to sleep rough. My hat kept sliding off my head, my pants kept riding up my right leg, making me cold & those stupid people just wouldn’t shut up!
Then the clubs let out for the night & things got a little hairy. A group of drunken lads arrived. They screamed at us, one of them kicked one of the boxes someone was sleeping in a few times. They were so loud & threatening – just their presence that late at night & as drunk as they were made me fear for my safety. To me, they seemed determined to cause chaos, and they made me afraid – now I really knew what it must be like to be asleep on the street. It was scary & I didn’t like it. Around 04:30 I gave up trying to sleep & made my way to the refreshment table to make myself a cup of tea, with lots of sugar. I decided to spend the rest of my night huddled in my sleeping bag, thinking about the temporary situation I was in & being so thankful that it was only temporary. I tried to read, but I was too tired, hungry & cold. Soon the night came to an end & everyone began to stir, then we began to tear down our little cardboard city, with most people lost in thought of what they had just done.
I learned a lot about myself that night & I think my empathy toward homelessness increased 1000 fold. I think I was pretty brave, but I was only out there for one night. Would I have been able to cope if it had been for real? I’m not sure & I hope I never have to find out!