Well, when I say a night on the tiles what I really mean is a night on a cold hard concrete floor….. On the 25th August this year a team of Kairos staff and volunteers braved the streets of Coventry to experience one night of homelessness. The aim was a) to raise critical funds for Kairos and b) to raise awareness of the plight of many of our service users who have to sleep rough rain or shine, winter or summer. Below are a series of personal accounts of the experience:
“I did the Sleep Out for many reasons: Firstly, I am constantly aware how different my world is from the world of our Service Users, so by doing this I thought it might give me a tiny insight into their world and therefore help me a better support to them; Secondly, I know how important funding is to the organisation and how difficult it is to acquire funding, so I wanted to be part of something positive to get funding for KairosWWT and; thirdly it marked my return to work after a lovely long maternity leave, so I wanted the opportunity to meet some of our wonderful volunteers and catch up with staff.
I found the Sleep Out to be challenging, enlightening and a lot of fun. There were the obvious challenges of dealing with the cold and discomfort as well as a sense of vulnerability but in addition to that there was the unease of knowing that whilst I was huddled together with a group of fantastic women, our Service Users were just the other side of the wall facing exploitation, risk, uncertainty, hunger, cold etc. There was also that unease of knowing that in the morning I would pick up my sleeping bag, chuck away my cardboard and go home for a hot cuppa and a warm shower; a privilege our Service Users are unlikely to be enjoying. So, lots of fun, a peep into the world of our Service Users and challenging but enlightening on a number of levels”. Nic
“The Sleep Out gave us the rare and uncomfortable insight into just one of the many complex barriers female street sex workers commonly face. We often talk about the vulnerability of our service-users and yet rarely do we have to face the reality of that vulnerability for ourselves. For me, the Sleep Out was a sobering experience; a most literal awakening of just how exposing the experience of rough sleeping can be and how just one night without quality sleep can impact on your overall sense of well-being.
Working for Kairos WWT is a daily affirmation of the strength and resilience of women. I’m proud of the team of volunteers who came together for the night to not only to raise funds for Kairos WWT but to raise awareness of one of the issues that affects too many of our service-users. I’d like to thank all those who sponsored the team, and contributors from the local community who helped make our experience slightly more comfortable. ” Lucia
“I decided to join the sleep out as I thought it was not only a brilliant way to raise money, but also a great way to raise awareness and gain an understanding of some of the difficulties and barriers Kairos’ service users face. It can be easy to empathise in the abstract but I think actually experiencing in a small way what it is like to have no home, no safe place to go or no one to call upon, and how vulnerable that makes you feel, has been incredibly valuable and enhanced my role as a Kairos volunteer. I found the night a lot more difficult than I anticipated; the physical discomfort of lying on concrete and sense of unease I felt at being out in the open led to a sleep-free night. I would end by saying that I wouldn’t want to repeat the experience in a hurry but uttering those words, and realising that behind those words lies the freedom to choose, makes me realise more than anything how fortunate I am to have a home I feel safe in”. Thea
“For me it was important to take part in the Sleep Out to gain some understanding into what the women I work with face on a daily basis, homelessness. This did not mean however that I was looking forward to it. I need my sleep and the possibility of being awake through the night filled me, and my family, with FEAR. It turns out that I had nothing to worry about. Concrete and cold are not barriers to my beauty sleep and to the amazement of my fellow sleepers I slept for a good 7 hours!
The reason that I was able to sleep was that I was surrounded by support and people who would ensure my safety. This is NOT the case for our women who are often alone when facing a night sleeping rough. It was another reminder of how important support is and what a difference it can make to our experience. I would like to thank all the wonderful people who assisted us in our endeavour, stayed away to keep me safe, and generously donated to Kairos so that we can continue to offer the support which is so desperately needed to improve our women’s experience.” Emma
“I think the hardest part for me was at about 4:30am, after everyone else had drifted off to sleep. It was just me and another volunteer still awake, too exhausted to move or speak, yet unable to sleep.
The beginning of the evening was quite cheerful, almost pleasant. We had each other for company and good humoured team spirit saw me determinedly upbeat through those first few hours. However, a few hours before dawn set in, when everyone else was asleep, the awful reality of the situation sunk in and I was more exhausted than I had ever felt in my life, but so acutely aware of the risks around me that I could not contemplate falling asleep, feeling too exposed and too anxious to risk not being alert should anything happen that might compromise our safety. I felt isolated, despite the people asleep around me, I was freezing and my body ached from lying on the cold, hard ground.
In those hours of intense quietude, with nothing but my thoughts to distract me from my discomfort, I began to think about how worthless a person might feel, without a bed to lie on and a roof over your head. It’s so basic and without it you cannot even begin to construct your life in a worthwhile way. I thought about how trapped you would feel being caught in a situation that puts your whole life on hold. I thought about how lonely it felt out there. I thought about how as a women I felt so vulnerable and defenceless and I thought if this was my life, what might I have to do to survive? Would I survive?
Come 5:30am I was desperately watching the minutes tick slowly on, willing them to bring morning as quickly as possible, so that I could return to my house and snuggle under the duvet in the comfort of my own cosy surroundings. My escape was imminent, but for many women there are no easy solutions, but it is apparent that without more support there will always be women who are forced to live life on the streets.” Nat
The Sleep Out raised a staggering £1,134.80 (if you would like to add to this total click here) which will go towards our continual work supporting, empowering and giving a voice to women at risk of or subject to sexual exploitation, including those caught up in sex work and those aspiring to leave it.
For more information:
Check out an interview with our Project Manager, Lucia Leon, by clicking this link
Check out an article written by our fantastic volunteer, Thea, by clicking this link