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Night on street proves harsh homeless reality

By North Devon Journal  |  Posted: November 08, 2012

  • SLEEP OUT: The group raising awareness of homelessness. Picture: Mike Southon Ref: BNMS20121030H-002_C

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YOU'VE just got in after a hard days' work and crashed out on the sofa, ready to watch your favourite TV programme in the comfort of your own home.

Now imagine wandering the streets in the freezing cold rain looking for a spare piece of pavement to lay your head with nothing to comfort you but a piece of cardboard.

The uncertainty of being homeless is one that faces many people across North Devon and, for just one night, I took to the streets along with a group of young people trying to raise awareness of the issue.

Arriving outside Barnstaple library at 6pm I saw people setting up a marquee and started to feel slightly more reassured about being able to sleep undercover just in case it rained – little did I know the marquee was only to give cover to the soup kitchen.

Soon after a lorry emblazoned with an Atlas Packaging logo pulled up and began to unload the 23 cardboard beds designed just for the occasion by Laura Furnifer who is part of the company's structural design team.

She said: "We wanted it to be a simple idea that would carry any weight. The point of this was to have a set of divisions so when you sit on it, it holds the heat inside the bed. So any heat is lost a lot slower. The science behind cardboard is fairly common sense and is what we have learnt in the job. It needed to be simple and straightforward."

I grabbed my sleeping bag and pillow, picked myself a bed for the night and went to meet Claire Fisher who is part of the team at Encompass Southwest, a charity which provides a support service for the homeless.

Claire helped organise the sleep out with Zac Harris and Sophie James from Ayres Close in Bideford, who came up with the idea having experienced homelessness first-hand.

Zac said that if it was not for an organisation called Independent Futures supporting him he would be homeless himself and with that in mind he wanted to find a way to raise awareness and funds for the people who have helped him.

He said: "When we decided to do this event we had a meeting and we sort of joined forces. We wanted to raise awareness for youth homelessness. If it was not for supported living we would be homeless too."

Sophie said that, having spent time sofa surfing and living rough, people often judge the homeless without knowing their situation.

"A lot of people think 'why don't they go out and get a job?'," she said. "It is not that easy. If you have had a hard time you are not always going to have gone to college."

Sophie is going back to college and wants to work with people in care services who may be disabled or have learning difficulties. Her and Zac were just two of a group from Independent Futures who had turned out to sleep rough for the night.

It quickly got cold standing around outside the library so everyone decided to huddle together and get in their sleeping bags to keep warm.

At about 10pm I realised my toes had gone numb and, with a solid nine hours left to endure, I understood just how hard it was going to be to spend a whole night on the streets.

I tried settling down to get some sleep at around 11pm but the wind was relentless and any tiny bit of exposed skin soon felt like it was about to freeze.

There was an air of excitement among the rest of the group but eventually everyone quietened down and we managed to doze off for an hour or so. The peace was disturbed at 5am by a car full of people blasting out their music and shining their headlights at us but they soon got bored and moved on.

Before we knew it, 7am was upon us and the sleep out was officially over and we were free to return home for some sleep.

And that was undoubtedly what made the night more bearable – the fact that we did have a home to return to, unlike so many who are forced to sleep rough.

Agencies like Encompass and Independent Futures are doing their best to ensure young people are not left without accommodation, but they still need to raise awareness and much-needed funds to continue the work that they do.

For more information and to donate to Encompass Southwest, visit www.bpag-encom pass.org.uk

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