As you read this column nearly 5,000 people of all ages will be preparing to spend another night sleeping rough on the streets of Britain – an experience beyond the worst nightmares of most of us.
So last Friday night I joined some others supporting an annual ‘Sleep Easy’ fundraising initiative by YMCA Northumberland, which helps vulnerable young people, to spend a night under the stars to find out for myself what a shamefully high number of people have to face every day of their lives.
And I can tell you, the word ‘nightmare’ doesn’t come close to describing what I experienced.
With only a cardboard box for shelter, it was the coldest, most lonely, most frightening night of my life. It poured down; it was windy; it snowed; we got practically no sleep and as I lay in my box trying in vain to keep warm, I got more and more angry, yet more determined than ever to do what I can to end this scourge of our society.
Every single person in Britain should have a home to sleep in if they wish, and as a country we have the power and money to end homelessness and rough sleeping.
In the last five years more than 2,600 people have died while sleeping rough – that is 2,600 too many.
My ‘nightmare’ under the stars lasted only one night, and when it was over, after a relatively short number of hours, I was able to go back home for a shower and some rest in a comfortable, warm bed.
Yet 5,000 people don’t have that luxury and have to start all over again to overcome the daily challenge of finding somewhere safe to survive another night outdoors.
People find themselves homeless for a wide variety of reasons and as a society it behoves us to do whatever is in our power to make sure as many as possible of them have a roof over their heads at night so they don’t have to daily go through the same sobering and shocking experience I encountered last weekend.