Just a taste of sleeping rough

By David Gledhill, Marketing & Communications Lead

Every night in shelters and doorways across the Bay, people are bedding down because they have nowhere else to go.

Others are not so lucky and have to make their own protection against the elements with whatever is available.

People’s reasons for being out on the streets are many and complex, but they all have in thing in common – they do not want to be there, and they are not there because of a current conscious choice.

Numerous agencies endeavour to provide shelter, food and various forms of support, but there are still those that fall through the cracks and face the nights alone.

Accurate figures for rough sleepers are notoriously difficult to come by, and it is generally accepted that official figures (19 per night) are actually an underestimate of the true numbers.

Last Friday, I joined around 20 people bedded down in makeshift shelters out in the open on the tennis courts outside the YMCA South Devon building in Goodrington, but they were all there of their own volition.

They all had the time to prepare and brought their own sleeping bags, warm clothing, cardboard and tarpaulins; what is more, they were all safe in the knowledge that they were relatively safe and secure.

The forecast was terrible, heavy rain, rapidly falling temperatures and high winds, though as we gathered around a campfire, we all reassured ourselves it could have been much worse.

And it probably could have been, though it did not feel it at the time. No sooner had we crawled into our shelters than the rain started and the wind came in sideways finding gaps in our makeshift structures, where we thought none were possible.

Being wet and cold is miserable and sleeping, for me at least, was out of the question which meant instead your senses become heightened to every sound from the owl in the treetops to the speeding traffic on the nearby Dartmouth Road. Where do people go at terrifyingly breakneck speeds at three in the morning?

Then there are the unfamiliar unidentifiable sounds that penetrate just as you feel there is an outside chance of dropping off, even for a few much needed minutes.

And then there is the cold, the sort that creeps into the bones and stays there resisting all efforts to wrap up warmer and numbing all the senses except those associated with survival and discomfort.

Even the birds, which start singing two hours before daylight (who knew?) sound discordant when your watch shows four o’clock and as for the fully-fledged dawn chorus – think children’s starter violin lessons.

Exaggeration? On the contrary, looking back on the notes I made at the time, the whole experience was far worse, but typing this now in the comfort of a heated house after a fulfilling night’s sleep, the words I wrote seem over-amplified and excessive.

And that surely is the point. One night out in the open, safe in the knowledge that dawn would eventually arrive and then you can dash home, take a hot shower and perhaps grab a few hours of sleep in the comfort of your own bed is hardly the end of the world? It certainly isn’t a daily reality.

For some, and just one is too many, it is their life, their routine and they need our help. Friday’s sleep out was to raise funds and awareness for young people facing homelessness, something that should never be allowed to happen.

Nightstop is a new project in the Bay that was launched last December to take young people into the homes of volunteers rather than risk them going out on the streets, into hostels or bed and breakfast accommodation.

In the last couple of weeks, Nightstop has helped two young people in danger of becoming homeless and provided 12 nights of safe accommodation for them.

Sadly, and this indicates the scale of the problem, they need more hosts. Call them today on 01803 551578 and they will provide you with all the training and support that you need.

All homeless people need our help, young people in particular. Sleeping under the stars might sound romantic, and on a tropical island, it might be. In Torbay, it isn’t. It is bloody miserable.

You can still give to help this fantastic cause: www.justgiving.com/fundraising/david-gledhill4