Sarah Boast, from MHS Homes Group, tells us how spending a night sleeping rough changed her perspective on homelessness.
When my colleague first pitched the idea of sleeping in a card board box in our car park next to the open river for 12 hours in January, I can’t say I leapt for joy.
But I signed up nonetheless, sure it would be totally eye-opening and insightful, hopeful to raise lots of money and support for a Kent homeless charity, Porchlight.
And it was completely shocking.
I’ve never felt so vulnerable. Though tucked up very tightly in my sleeping bag and box, I still felt scared, knowing those two items were all that protected me from the outside world, its elements, a fox that was lurking nearby and plenty of river rats.
I’d heard the horrors but never realised how exposed and susceptible people who are homeless actually are.
And we had it easy – with palettes, cardboard and soup all donated to us from lots of local companies.
We also had the support of one another. About 50 of us took part in the event, spurring each other on and making what seemed like an unbearable challenge somewhat easier.
But imagine what it’s like to not have anyone. No family, no support network around you. So lonely that you must ask for help on the streets and passers by don’t even want to look at you.
That’s why we, at mhs homes, host a Big Sleep Out every other year in winter – to raise funds and awareness and to support a local homeless charity. This year we supported Porchlight and raised more than £10,000.
“Porchlight allows people to escape the misery of the streets and begin to recover from the damaging effects of homelessness. It gives people support with their mental health and wellbeing, and helps them get back into education or employment. It also works with people who are at risk of becoming homeless and need help to stay on track”, said Chris Thomas, Communicatins Co-ordinator at the Canterbury-based charity.
I’m unbelievably proud to work for a housing association that does so much to support local charities and local people too.
The Big Sleep Out always gets lots of support from local businesses, councillors and politicians.
This year we had several stakeholders take part as well as three councillors and MP Tracey Crouch, who had just been appointed as minister for loneliness.
At the time of the event Government had just committed funding to tackle the problem of rough sleeping but I questioned if it’d go far enough to tackle the housing crisis, at a time when Shelter estimated 300,000 people in Great Britain sleeping rough.
According to Porchlight, homelessness in Kent rose 38% in the past year. It’s the seventh year in a row homelessness has increased across the county.
We’re pledging to build at least 600 homes over the next three years and will continue to work closely with our partners and local authorities to ensure that we do all we can to prevent homelessness.
The Big Sleep Out was challenging but completely eye-opening. It’s the very least we can do.
If you’d like to find out more about our Big Sleep Out, what we do or to donate email firstname.lastname@example.org.