On Saturday 8th August, 20 women from KairosWWT, SWISH, Embrace and The Anchor Centre, joined together for a night under the stars to raise money for their projects and raise awareness about the issue of female homelessness.
The sponsored sleep out, an approximation of ‘rough sleeping’ took place in a car park in Hillfields from 7pm to 7am, with all 20 women sleeping with nothing but cardboard boxes and sleeping bags to get us through the night.
There is a strong correlation between street-based sex work and homelessness and a Sleep Out by Coventry charities and organisations offering front-line services to women caught up in street-based sex work seemed a fitting way to highlight the issue. In the last 6 weeks alone, 1 in 5 of KairosWWT service-users have presented to us as homeless.Here are some other reasons female homelessness needs our attention: Hannah, one of our volunteers, took an hourly (or thereabouts) photo of her experience sleeping ‘rough’ and captured some notes on her phone. Here’s her experience:
7.00pm arrive at the Car Park aka my bedroom for the night. Unload our cardboard bedding and set up our beds in a corner by the fence. We’ve picked a fairly discrete corner of the car park, with a wall and a fence acting as shelter. Making the decision where to bed down for the night on a daily basis must be tough.
7.30-8.00pm More happy campers start to arrive and the sun is still shining. We have been extremely lucky with the weather today, leaving us with a warm breeze throughout the evening.
9.00pm The games master (Nic) has produced the goods- just before the light starts to go we start playing ‘5 second rule’. Team spirits are high.
10.00 pm Stage 1- The zebra onesie featuring a tail is on. Starting to get a bit cold but I’ve resisted wrapping up warm too early, purely so I’m even more grateful when I get into my sleeping bag later on tonight. I had a late breakfast this morning and missed lunch so by this time I am absolutely starving.
Pizza delivery arrives- donated to us by a local takeaway. Experienced the feeling of being starving and then the relief of being given hot food- first signs of desperation and I had eaten breakfast this morning which I’m not sure some of the women we support would have. Even the fact of being sat on the floor in a sleeping bag whilst someone you don’t know brings you food gives you an insight into what it’s like to be homeless, hungry and in need. The light is starting to go and it’s getting a bit colder.
11.00pm Bats and cats have been sighted & my decision to not bring a pillow is being questioned already… the concrete is extremely concrete like!
12:15am Everything’s pretty much silent now… Lying down on top of my sleeping bag, experiencing what feels like every bone in my body dig into the floor. My battery’s slowing dying on my phone and I’m yet to get into my sleeping bag because it’ll only mean I’m closer to the concrete. I keep sitting up and looking around, it’s such a weird experience being surrounded by others sleeping in sleeping bags in the corner of a car park in the middle of Coventry! People are actually sleeping which is surprising. I feel slightly crazy, I can’t sit still or lay still because it’s so uncomfortable so I keep getting up to walk around. A baby is screaming from a nearby flat and sirens sound even louder than usual.
Fall asleep at around 12.30am… Stage 2- into the sleeping bag!
1.30am- I’ve just woken up as a result of someone snoring in my ear which made me jump! Any noise and I’m awake. I look around and everyone is still… although 2 people are meant to be awake at all times I’m pretty sure I’m the only one awake or at least that’s how it feels! And that’s being surrounded by a good number of other people- God knows what people feel like when they are forced to sleep rough on their own!! I quickly hope I fall back to sleep so I don’t have to be awake on my own! Also suffering from asthma I really need my inhaler but it’s in my car and I don’t want to get out of my sleeping bag! 6 1/2 hours done, 6 hours to go!
Never thought this would be the case but I am absolutely boiling in my onesie! Every homeless person should be given one- in fact I’m donating mine as of tomorrow.
The back of my head is digging in to the concrete- it feels like someone is pushing it into the ground but really this is just a result of me not bringing a pillow.
Sights- waking up to see a tree above my head is odd- slight change of scenery from my usual bedroom ceiling. Sounds- there has been a constant stream of very loud cars.
2.00am- Usually when you wake up in the middle of the night and see it’s 2am you think you’re winning at life because you’ve got hours left in bed. Right now it just means I have longer on concrete…
I think I shut my eyes between 2-3 then was woken up to Emma and Lucia going to the toilet. Lucia’s turn to be on guard.
3.00am Life chats with Lucia sharing our thoughts of the experience! 3 hours 15 minutes before the reporter comes… counting down the hours. I’m feeling pretty awake- sat up again, looking around at the dark car park. Again, the traffic is noticeably very loud. Even the sound of people turning their engines on and shutting their car doors sounds SO loud. It also sounds as though people are going at 60mph!
Traffic has never been so loud and the sound of people sleeping has never been so quiet.
Lucia has just given me a chocolate eclair- wow, tastes amazing compared to the fluffy dry taste I had in my mouth before. Again a little insight into feeling hungry and being so grateful for a small piece of chocolate! The car park lights have just gone out, leaving us pretty much in darkness. I definitely can’t see the car park gates or much else so feeling slightly more vulnerable now. I’m sure most people can relate to the feeling that being able to see an entrance/ door gives you a bit of comfort that you could react quickly if you saw anything coming.
Still a continuous stream of traffic.
4.15am Now it’s a lot darker and I can’t see much- noises are becoming amplified. I’m starving again. The whole toilet issue is becoming an issue. At home when you convince yourself you don’t need the toilet because you don’t want to get out your warm bed.. Well I don’t want to go to the toilet because it means i have to walk across a pitch black car park whilst everyone’s asleep.
4.50am It’s starting to get light. This is the only time during the night that I’ve been cold- I have a cold nose to prove it. I dread to think what it would be like during the winter months!
Sleeping on concrete really does magnify everything. An old netball injury has suddenly come back to life as a result of my hip digging into the floor. Experiencing the same issue as earlier- cannot get comfy!
5.40am It’s pretty much light outside now and I’m fully awake. Freezing! I’m regretting taking my onesie off at 2am despite still being fully clothed.
6.10am It’s fully light, most people awake but very quiet still. It’s almost like we are all coming to terms with the fact that we have woken up in a car park.
6.15am The reporter from BBC Coventry and Warwickshire arrives and interviews Lucia (43 minutes in) and some others, asking us how our night was. Shortly after the reporter leaves we have completed the sleep out!
People gather up their stuff pretty quickly. Fighting with my sleeping bag to get it back in the bag isn’t really what you need at this time in the morning. Again another insight into how homeless people have to gather up their belongings/ sleeping bags and move on in the morning. We gathered up all the cardboard and packed up our cars. We are all very lucky and can go back to our warm beds.
7.15am Home. My bedroom feels like a sauna compared to the outside car park and my bed feels like a cloud.
Doing this year’s Sleep Out as a group of 20 women felt like a real gift. Sharing the experience with our colleagues from SWISH, Embrace and The Anchor Centre enabled us to strengthen our partnerships in an act of female solidarity.
Lynne, SWISH said of the Sleep Out: It was a challenging evening and gave us a real insight into the hardships that women who have to sleep rough experience. It really makes you appreciate what you have and how things we take for granted everyday can make such a difference in your life. Seeing shooting stars and rainbows over Hillfields was a beautiful experience, but sleeping on a cardboard box all night was not. We were in the safety of a locked car park and had safety in numbers, but if you are sleeping rough, on your own, as a female, it would undoubtedly be a much scarier experience. Getting very little sleep or broken sleep under those conditions, for one night was tough enough, but having to deal with that night after night and in all weathers would make coping with life all the more difficult.
Karissa from Embrace added: My experience of sleeping outside for the night was far more pleasant than I expected. It was one of the warmest days of the year, we had access to tea, coffee and toilets and I saw 3 shooting stars and a rainbow. Despite this, I still woke up feeling groggy and craving a warm shower, coffee and my bed, something our service users may not have access to. The loud and daunting sounds of the city reminded me throughout the night how vulnerable someone sleeping rough must feel. Surrounded by 20 women passionate about tackling these issues, I felt safe and empowered. The story isn’t such a positive one for our service users. I hope that those who have donated and supported us have taken some time to consider these issues.
Together, our agencies have raised over £2600 (and rising) to support the work we do with vulnerable women in Coventry. If you want to support this event, you can still sponsor the KairosWWT team via our BigGive page.
We want to extend a massive thanks to all the sleepers who took part in the Sleep Out, everyone who so generously supported us, Hello Chicken and Greggs for feeding us, Coventry Comfort Carers for supplying flasks and sleeping bags and St Mary & St Bendicts Church for allowing us to take over their car park. Thank you.