As another Leeds hostel closes this week, reporter Jonathan Brown spends the night getting a taste of life on the streets.
HOME comforts are a distant memory as nearly 100 fundraisers flock to City Square.
It’s 9.30pm and Leeds city centre is swarming with charity-minded volunteers hoping to gain an insight into the city’s homelessness issues through a sponsored sleep out.
However humid weather and sleeping bags make what is meant to be a look into the lives of the less fortunate, seem somewhat less realistic.
But a Walk of Awareness, led by Simon on the Streets volunteer Jamie Ross, 32, soon brings fundraisers down to earth.
The outreach worker tells of how he lost his job, home, partner and the trust of his family through a heroin addiction that dated back to his early teens.
Jamie said that the charity’s director, Clive Sandle, repeatedly tried to help him during his darkest days on the streets. Clive now employs him.
Clive said: “It’s not the physical conditions that rough sleepers endure that is the problem.
“We hope this brings home to people that it’s less about the physical aspect but more the feeling of ‘Oh my god I’ve got nowhere to go and noone in the world who cares about me’.”
The homelessness charity gets behind the issues that drive people to rough sleeping through outreach work.
Less than 500 yards into the tour of rough sleeping hotspots, a stunned silence ensues.
We spot a young man, who doesn’t look older than 18, sleeping in the Dark Arches beneath Leeds Train Station.
Jamie instantly recognises him and urges us to move on to let him sleep in peace.
Helen Beachell, operations manager at the charity, said: “We take as long as it takes to make sure we can look at the changes people need to make.
“If you can’t build a relationship you have no hope to move people forward.”
By 11pm we arrive at our rough-sleeping spot – Leeds Parish Church, in Kirkgate.
Cardboard boxes are dished out and an uncomfortable sleep lies ahead, giving a tiny physical insight into sleeping rough.
Fundraising efforts from residents, local councillors and staff from companies like Blue Claw Media and DWF led to £10,000 being raised.
Fears are rife that homelessness is on the increase after the government cut housing benefit by £2.4bn in April, while unemployment was up 80,000 in the three months up to July.
This is added to by 31-bed Leeds hostel for single homeless women, The Hollies, being scheduled to close this week, only a month after the closure of the Richmond Court hostel.
Coun Mark Dobson, Leeds City Council’s executive member for environmental services, said: “The work they do and the workers’ stories really highlight that we have a real underlying problem that needs addressing.”
Visit www.simononthestreets.co.uk or www.justgiving.com/sleep-out-2011 for information or to donate.