Search Laboratory was definitely ‘with Simon’ last week for Simon on the Street’s annual sponsored sleep out. (#iamwithsimon)
After masses of fundraising, tweeting and sharing, the day finally came where we had to actually sleep rough in a cardboard box on the streets for charity. The 17 strong Search Laboratory team bedded down for the night on the mean streets of Leeds on Thursday, 29th September with the homelessness charity – Simon on the Streets.
The team met at 9.30pm, in City Square, in readiness to embark upon a night under the stars. We were all wrapped up in our thermals with our sleeping bags and torches in hand. Little did we know the evening would turn out to be so very warm!
Throughout the weeks leading up to the event, the whole company had been tweeting and sharing our Just Giving page, trying to raise as much money as possible for the cause. On arrival at the meeting point we were thrilled to hear that Simon on the Streets (SOS) had raised over £10,000 in total and money was still coming in.
Search Laboratory were part of a much larger group of 100 people who had given up time to sleep rough for the night and learn – for real – how it feels to be homeless and vulnerable. It was meant to raise money but also allow us more fortunate people to understand, just a fraction of, what it is like to live on the streets.
Clive Sandal, Director of SOS, explained to us that it costs £2000 per person, per year to provide intensive rehabilitation services. The money raised will go toward continuing care and hopefully stretch further so that SOS can employ a new outreach worker.
The ‘Walk of Awareness’
We took a walk through the city centre, an area most are familiar with, to discover some of the hot spots for rough sleeping; I was shocked at how close these spots were to the shops yet I never knew people were sleeping there. We were led around by Clive and an ex-service user. Our guide was Paul; he had been homeless for nearly six years until Simon on the Streets found him. He has now been off the streets for seven years and I could really feel the deep appreciation that Paul felt for Clive and the charity as he explained the realities of rough living. Like most of SOS’s service users, the guides all had experiences with addiction and had overcome their problems with SOS’s help. Their stories were moving, some were shocking, but all the guides had (with SOS’s help) managed to make the transition from homeless to housed. Even better still, these ex-service users are now employed by SOS to help others achieve the same.
We returned to the sleep site, (Leeds Parish Church’s grounds) and were all getting ready for the evening ahead, expecting the worst. Surprisingly we were very fortunate with the weather, it was a warm and lovely evening. With hindsight, it was almost disappointing that we had been so fortunate, as we knew deep down it was not what the majority of nights in Yorkshire are like and had it been cold or wet – we would all have struggled a lot more.
While not the average homeless persons experience, the night did give us a peek into the trials and tribulations of rough sleepers in Leeds. We were all very tired the next morning and many of us had back, hip and neck ache as you might expect from sleeping on the floor. While we avoided the rats, the rain and drunken people walking home – you did feel vulnerable and by morning it was freezing cold. The experience made me appreciate my life (and my bed) a lot more.
All in all, the evening was a great opportunity to raise money for a worthy cause and learn about another way of life – a way of life that we never really think about, but that is real, and taking place every day around us. The team gained some valuable insight into the work that Simon on the Streets does, and bonded as a team too.
We are all looking forward to next year’s sleep out and will continue to support Simon on the Streets in other ways during the coming winter. A big thank you goes out to all who took part and those supported us by donating. The generous donations and encouragement made the whole thing worthwhile for the team so – Thank you all.