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Reflections on St Petrock’s #BigNightOut

On Friday 12th April, 18 intrepid people slept out in gardens, sheds, tents and cars to raise awareness of homelessness and funds for St Petrock’s vital rough-sleeper survival services.

St Petrock’s Director, Peter Stephenson, spent the night in his garden shed.  Although the experience in no way compared to the reality of longer-term rough-sleeping, it did make him reflect on the challenges rough-sleepers face:

So that’s that done! I made it through the night, but it wasn’t a desperately pleasant experience.  Normally I am fine doing this sort of thing, but as 9pm approached, the idea of leaving the sofa and heading out into the shed rapidly lost its appeal. Maybe it’s an age thing…

The night itself was OK, but I’m not a great sleeper at the best of times, so every little rustle outside had me wide awake again. And my sleeping bag, despite being rated at 5°, wasn’t really warm enough even on a relatively mild night. So it was a long night, but I got some sleep. A shower, breakfast and 3 mugs of coffee had me back feeling human again.

But it did make me reflect: This was just one night. I was safe. I had good shelter from any rain or dew, and even the wind. It was a very mild night. There was no risk of being assaulted or abused. I always had the option of heading inside if it got too much. And a hot shower, breakfast and coffee awaited me in the morning.

That is a million miles away from the experience of rough sleepers: For them it is night after night. They are not safe, but vulnerable to abuse and assault (which they experience frequently). Their shelter from the elements is minimal or non-existent. The do not have the option of going inside if they find it too unpleasant. And (if it weren’t for St Petrock’s) there would be no coffee, breakfast or shower the next day. An utterly miserable existence.

No wonder so many use alcohol or substances to dull the experience of life and the recollection of past traumas. In the past I reckoned I’d hold it together for a couple of months before starting to drink too much if I ever ended up homeless. After Friday night, I am not so sure.

There is no way anyone would do this as a lifestyle choice.

What Friday has done for me is reinforce massively the value I give to the service that St Petrock’s provides – that morning coffee and breakfast, access to showers, laundry, clean clothes, fresh sleeping bags (over 600 given out last year). The friendly face offering unconditional and nonjudgemental compassion and support. Hot, nourishing home-cooked lunches. Somewhere to come inside for some peace and to escape the constant feeling of being under threat (last year an average of 32 people visited the centre every day). Help to process past trauma, to get medical attention, to find housing. It really is basic stuff (think the very bottom tier of Maslow’s hierarchy if you are familiar with that), but I appreciate more than ever how life-saving it is.

A huge thank you to everyone who has supported me in the #BigNightOut. I’m amazed by how much you have donated, and every bit will be used to improve lives. Thank you so much.