With only two weeks to go, we spoke with our CEO, Jonathan Lee (centre), about taking part in the Sleep Out.
Jonathan, you slept out for Crisis Centre Ministries last year. Could you tell us a little bit about your experience?
Certainly – it was actually the third time I’ve done it, and after three years, you get gradually used to it. Last year it rained – and I was pleased! I think the fact that people got wet was a positive experience, because it was a little bit more like the reality that rough sleepers face every night.
In January each year we begin to save cardboard for the staff who are participating. Cardboard provides that barrier underneath your sleeping bag, which on top of I also put down a couple of roll mats. I also wrap a blanket around me inside my sleeping bag, and wear several layers of warm clothes and a hat and gloves.
On the night, people start arriving from 10pm to choose where they’re going to sleep. There’s some strategy to this. Do you go up onto the grass bank, which larger groups do, to huddle round together for wind protection? Or do you go by the side of the building where you can get shelter from the prevailing wind? The dilemma is the same faced by those living on the streets. Where am I going to sleep? Where is a safe, protective corner? Who’s pushed me out of the way? Who’s moved my sleeping bag?
It’s generally a good atmosphere. There’s a buzz of nervous excitement. It’s good to see that number of people together – over 200 – doing something alongside others. And members of the press are normally around interviewing people, asking for comments and seeing if there are any persons of note there and interviewing them. Various members of the council have done the Sleep Out before. Paul Smith was there last year, and he might be there this year too!
Hot drinks are available from our team from the Wild Goose – cups of tea, coffee and snacks. You need to decide whether to consume liquid because you might need the toilet later. There are toilets on site, which is a luxury, but you still need to make a decision about whether you want to get out of your sleeping bag or not.
A safety briefing is held at about 11pm and then everyone beds down. It starts to get quiet and some people go to sleep and some people don’t.
Did you sleep?
I’ve had varying experiences. Last year I managed six hours’ sleep, which was pretty good. Previous years, it’s been more sporadic. I think it depends on how cold it gets, as that’s what wakes you up in the night. Then there’s also how much disturbance is around. There’s a lot of traffic noise. It’s better now because the ambulance and fire station has moved, but you do hear a lot of sirens and all the traffic along Temple Way. And there are the street lights, which are on all night, and then around 2-3am you hear people going home from their evening’s entertainment. And that can be a bit rowdy, as it is a Friday night in central Bristol! So it’s a bit of an eye-opener, because obviously this is the environment that homeless people sleep in. It’s safer with people around then being tucked away in a corner somewhere.
Participants start to get up around 5-5:30am. Our Wild Goose team will have been up from 3 or 4 in the morning to provide bacon rolls at 6am. It’s an absolute treat to get up to a bacon roll and cup of tea after a night like that. As people start to surface, there is a lot of mingling around, people chatting about their experiences, bleary-eyed and sleepy. And then there’s the tidy-up and moving on in the morning.
What has your three years of participating taught you?
It’s taught me that the experience is absolutely not real. Arguably it’s a token effort, but it’s not a real experience. I’ve got my multiple layers of clothing on. If they started off dry and got wet in the night, I will go home and hang them up to dry. I get to go back to a warm and comfortable house, have a shower, warm up, have a cup of coffee or tea and relax. I’ll probably sleep in the daytime if I didn’t get much sleep the night before, in the comfort of my own home.
Last year, there was a guy, known to many of the projects, who was around at the event, and he was saying that what we were doing was not a real experience, and was upset about what we were doing. He was not wrong, but he also didn’t understand the event’s purpose. It’s about raising awareness and helping people who have never been homeless before to gain a little understanding from the experience. It’s also an opportunity to raise money to help fund charities like Crisis Centre Ministries to help people move off the streets.
What are your top tips?
Cardboard is key. It keeps you off the ground, keeps you dry and adds a layer of insulation. Put plenty of layers on and try to enjoy it. We appreciate what you’re doing!