YEP reporter Georgina Morris shares her experience of sleeping out in Leeds to raise funds for rough sleeper charity Simon on the Streets:
FIRST CAME the noise of rustling plastic, then the bright torchlight. I shouted out as I woke, disorientated and tight chested with fear at someone standing over me.
As my brain scrambled to understand what was happening, reassuring words came from the Simon on the Streets volunteer at the head of my makeshift bed.
She’d been carrying out one of the regular checks on the 100 or so people taking part in the charity’s annual #sleepwithsimon fundraiser and noticed that the sheet of tarpaulin had slipped right over my head.
Had I been sleeping rough for real, there would have been nobody checking on me throughout the night and worrying about whether I was suffocating under there.
In all likelihood, the person looming over me in the middle of the night would have been planning to attack or rob me.
We’ve seen two such incidents recently – one fatal – involving people in our city with a history of rough sleeping.
And as Simon on the Streets general manager Gordon Laing welcomed us to the Royal Armouries in Leeds on Thursday, the statistics he shared about life expectancy for rough sleepers were sobering.
There was a minute’s silence for four former clients who had lost their lives in the past 12 months and an empty sleeping bag laid out in their memory.
We’d been outside for around two hours by that point and although it was mercifully mild, the inactivity still had me feeling the cold and I was resisting the temptation to put on my fifth layer of clothing or climb into my sleeping bag early.
Had I been sleeping rough for real, there would have been nobody checking on me throughout the night and worrying about whether I was suffocating.Georgina Morris, YEP reporter
Most people were with friends or colleagues, but I was one of a smaller number taking on the challenge of sleeping out in the Tilt Yard by themselves.
The group split for a few hours, with half going to see a fantastic play staged by Red Ladder Theatre Company nearby and the rest listening to a motivational talk by Richard McCann.
Alone in a crowd as we walked to and from the play’s venue and, later, listening to other people’s laughter floating through the darkness, I got brief glimpses of the isolation some rough sleepers must feel.
I climbed into my sleeping bag at around 11.30pm, struggling to find a comfortable position as I lay on a few flattened cardboard boxes and regretted the decision to leave my pillow and camp mat at home.
An hour later and I’d barely slept with the noise of talking nearby and the distant shouts and sirens of a city night, but I must have drifted off as a I woke with a start for some reason around 1.40am.
Forty minutes later and I was awake once more thanks to the general discomfort you’d expect from sleeping with so little between you and the floor.
The volunteer’s intervention woke me around an hour later and it took some time to settle again after the initial shock, the idea of the dangers faced by real rough sleepers troubling me.
Exhausted – and probably overheating from the five layers and three pairs of socks – I eventually fell into the deepest sleep of the night.
When I stirred and heard chatter, I initially tried to tune it out as I had done earlier but the patter of rain on the tarpaulin brought me round. Only then did I find it was nearly 7am and all but about 10 participants had eaten breakfast and left.
A different volunteer greeted me and said they had been getting concerned about the lack of movement, a joke in this case but another reminder of the harsh realities of life on streets as winter approaches.
While our sheltered night will never come close to the true experience, it was enough to leave me in no doubt about why the work of charities like Simon on the Streets is so necessary.