Sleeping on the streets

As a journalist, I feel I have a duty to inform and educate people. But as a person, I feel I have a duty and responsibility to educate myself; particularly on matters that I feel dearly about and am reporting on. That is why, on Friday 27th February 2015, I slept on the streets for one night to raise awareness and money for homelessness.

Friday 27th February was a big day for me. I had presented my first show for Zee TV so I had literally just made my debut on television. On the train, I could not decipher whether I was coming down from the adrenaline of my show or if nerves were kicking in from the realisation of what I was about to do, but I could feel my hands shaking.

My mum and older sister gave me a lift to my local YMCA where the charity event Sleep Easy was taking place. I was given a sleeping bag and a cardboard box which we all decorated as part of a competition judged by the Deputy Mayor of Havering. My feeble attempt and lack of artistic talent meant my box didn’t even make it in the competition!

While decorating our boxes, I had a chat with some of the others taking part and found that one of the participants is a resident of the YMCA and had been on the streets. It astonished me that somebody who had slept rough without a choice would want to take part in this. But it really shows humility and most of all strength.

After placing my box and sleeping bag outside, (and working out how to set up my sleeping bag – I have never camped before!), we all stood around a fire, cooked marshmallows, and sang songs. I spoke to another resident at the YMCA who said he had slept rough but doesn’t regret it. He said his experiences have made him who he is, strong as a person, and that he is working hard to get a job and stand on his own two feet.

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It really saddened me that somebody was struggling so much to make a living yet humbled and inspired me that he wasn’t giving up on his life and dreams because of a lack of resources. What strength! He wished me good luck with all my dreams.

I also learned that those who sleep rough don’t chose to, and if they do make the choice to leave home they are still trying to make a life for themselves. They’re just normal people like me trying to make a life. Not some druggie or thief or scrounger like some people might believe those who are on the streets to be.

That critical viewpoint is not unpopular. Many people think critically about those sleeping on the streets. Why don’t they get a job? Why don’t they go back home or use family support? These are some of the questions I asked myself until I researched and found that coming out of poverty is so difficult. How do you get a job if you haven’t showered and have no money for the ever-increasing price of transport?

11pm – lights out. I wrapped myself into my sleeping bag and shuffled up inside my box. Next to me was a resident of the YMCA who was once homeless. He told me: ‘keeping following your dreams’. He encouraged me to never give up. And he said he’d give me another pair of socks if I needed them!

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Emotional is the word to describe it. The night was extremely tough as I could not get warm. Every time I fell asleep, I would wake up colder than before. You can really feel the temperature drop throughout the night.

But although that was difficult, nothing will be more difficult that night than trying to digest that people my age are struggling so much to make a life let alone follow their dreams. Yet they were so inspiring, motivated, and friendly.

On my first live Zee Companion show on Zee TV, I settled my nerves by remembering the words the YMCA residents said to me that night. I remembered how tough it is for others and how much I should appreciate and absolutely go for my dreams like they encouraged me to.

It was an eye-opening and humbling experience to say the least and one that I will never forget.

Thank you to everyone who donated. I raised £1052.25 for a brilliant cause. If you want to get involved in Sleep Easy next year, visit http://www.ymca.org.uk/fundraising/sleep-easy.

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