Last night, I found myself sleeping on the cold streets of Edinburgh in the howling winds and forbidding temperatures. It was miserable weather for being outdoors at all – let alone for sleeping in. But still, I chose to do it.
Yes, I chose to sleep rough in the cold. It was a silly thing to do but at least it was a choice. Sadly, there are thousands of people throughout Scotland and the UK who didn’t choose to sleep rough last night, but circumstances meant that they had to. In fact, there are thousands of people sleeping rough most nights.
The people I’m talking about are the nation’s homeless people. And they’re the reason I braved the streets last night as part of Bethany Christian Trust’s Big Sleepout charity fundraiser. I spent one night away from the warmth of my own comfortable bed to raise funds, and awareness, in aid of our vulnerable homeless population.
[Note: I was joined by my friend, Susan, and a large group of other fundraisers. We were in a safe location with security, in-door plumbing, hot beverages, and the use of warming rooms if needed/wanted. So, it was “Homeless Light”, really.]
There seems to be a perception that homeless people are on the streets because they’ve chosen drugs or alcohol over work, or that they’re anti-social and incapable of finding and keeping a job. And, yes, some homeless people are homeless for those reasons.
But some people are homeless because they lost their jobs due to no fault of their own. Some are homeless because of domestic violence issues. Some are homeless because they suffer from mental health issues. And most of them are homeless because they don’t have a choice.
Sadly, I can’t fix this problem. I can’t wave a magic wand and make homelessness go away any more than I can wave a magic wand to end world hunger or domestic abuse. I wish I could, but I can’t.
So, what can I do? Well, I can try to raise a bit of money for homeless organisations (It’s not too late to donate!) but I can also try to raise a bit of awareness about homeless issues. After all, the more we know the more power we have to encourage change.
It was a humbling experience and I am glad to have had it. Certainly, it wasn’t truly authentic because I slept knowing that I was safe and knowing that I had a warm bed waiting for me when it was over. I wasn’t worried about someone spitting on me, or kicking me, as I lay there. I wasn’t worried about where my next meal was coming from. I wasn’t worried about being robbed in the middle of the night. But I was given the smallest glimpse of what life is like for those who must brave the streets every night.
It was also a heartbreaking experience because it made me realised just how hard those who face life on the street have it. And it made me understand some of the little things that I’d never considered before. It also made me realise just how difficult your entire life can be because of homelessness.
Obviously, my own insights are very limited, but I hope that this entire experience will help me to have that little bit more compassion for others. And I hope that my experience (and talking about my experience!) will help someone else to think about homeless issues, and maybe make a difference in the world.
And when you’re walking down the road and there’s someone hunkered down in a doorway trying to stay warm – it won’t hurt you to acknowledge them. Say hello and offer them a smile, or buy them a cup of tea if you have the time and money. They’ll appreciate it, even if they’re too cold to say thank you.