A night of sleeping out

On the night of Friday 7 October six members of the St Peter’s church family gave up their beds and duvets to take part in the Glass Door Sleep Out – raising money and awareness for the homeless charity Glass Door who organise the night shelter which St Peter’s is a part of.  Here, Sarah shares her experience of the night:

I set out to catch the bus to Duke of York square where the Sleep Out is happening.  I’m wearing three layers on my bottom-half, five on my top half, dragging a shopping trolley full of my gear for the evening (sleeping bag, sleeping mat, hats, scarves, gloves etc) and trying to carry a pile of cardboard which I’ve attempted to tie together (fairly unsuccessfully) with string. I feel pretty awkward – it’s quite difficult to move gracefully with this many layers and I keep dropping the cardboard or knocking the shopping trolley over.

Once on the bus I feel very self-conscious. People are definitely looking at me, and (I think) also keeping their distance from me. One man gives me a look that suggests he is weighing me up as a vulnerable target, which in turn makes me suddenly feel very vulnerable, and I’m relieved when he gets off several stops before me.

I arrive at our team’s meeting spot. I may have overdone the layers too early in the evening, as I’m currently roasting. I spot two women heading for the Sleep Out who seem to have drafted in a man to carry their cardboard for them. I’m torn between feeling like this is somehow cheating, and feeling jealous that I have had to lug my pile all the way here by myself. I wonder what most homeless people do about transporting their belongings – I’m only sleeping out for one night and I feel like I have more with me than you see the average homeless person with.

The team have all arrived and Sam sets out to scout the strategically best spot for sleeping. A lot of the best spots have already been taken but we eventually find one that is against a wall, is relatively dark (ie not directly underneath a streetlight) and a little bit away from the road. It is right next to the portaloos, but as the night goes on we decide this is more of an advantage than a disadvantage – another luxury that the homeless are not provided with.

Patrick realises that this square is where he first heard the gospel preached in London, which is an exciting coincidence. We start to get our gear out for the night, and compare what we’ve brought to try and keep us comfortable and warm. It seems ironic that the best equipped are those who regularly go skiing!

I decide to try and bed down for the night. Although I am subject to some mocking for my ‘head box’ – a technique recommended by past Sleep Out participants – it is pretty effective at keeping out some of the light and sound, and keeping in some warmth! I am very aware of other people still moving around me, though the number of our team present (and the security provided by Glass Door) certainly makes me feel less worried about myself and my possessions than I would if I was by myself.

Having dozed a little bit I get up needing the toilet, and am grateful for the proximity of the portaloos. There are a lot of people still up and chatting, perhaps waiting for tiredness to overtake them before they attempt to sleep. As I try to get back to sleep I find it hard not to be distracted by the noises all around me – the people, the traffic, the snoring!

I have managed to sleep a bit on and off during the night. Thanks to my vast number of layers I wasn’t cold, but then the temperature did only go down to about 11ºC – I can’t imagine being out in anything much colder! I close my eyes in the hope of sleeping a little bit more.

I hear some drops of rain on my head box and when I feel my sleeping bag it is quite damp, though thankfully it has yet to get through to me. When I sit up I see that a number of people are in their bivvy bags – how did they know it was going to rain?!

The team shares our stories from the night. Cara had trouble sleeping as she was worried about rats. I’m grateful she didn’t share her worries earlier – the thought hadn’t even occurred to me. Whilst most of us slept with our heads towards the wall, Ali slept with hers away from it. She says that she felt much more vulnerable with people walking right next to her head. Ken apparently didn’t sleep at all, but did enjoy talking with people on their way to the portaloos!

We head home. I am incredibly grateful that waiting for me are a hot shower, a warm bed, somewhere dry to hang up my damp gear and lots of cups of tea. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to do the Sleep Out and feel that it has given me a very small insight into what those who spend every night on the streets must go through.

If you would like to donate to Glass Door then the team’s sponsorship page is still open here.