“I’ve never slept on the streets before” #BigCitySleep

Posted on the 28th October 2014

A huge THANK YOU to all the Big City Sleep sleepers, supporters and sponsors – you have raised in excess of £15,000 for street children across the world. Incredible effort, thank you so much from everyone at Street Child World Cup.

David Lyons at the Big City Sleep
David Lyons at the Big City Sleep

The following is written by Street Child World Cup volunteer David Lyons | @D_F_Lyons

“I’ve never slept on the streets before” is a sentence that the vast majority of people are lucky enough to never have to use, but too many do. Homeless Link estimates that in England almost 2,500 people sleep rough every night and that 80,000 young people experience some form of homelessness each year. Across the world it is estimated that millions of children live and work on the streets.

On the evening of Friday 24 October I joined over 50 people in Old Spitalfields Market, London for the Big City Sleep, organised by Street Child World Cup and Action for Brazil’s Children Trust. The event challenges us ‘sleepers’ to get through one night on the streets raising money and awareness for the work they do supporting street children in Brazil and across the world.

SCWC Team England Girls share their experiences with the sleepers
SCWC Team England Girls share their experiences with the sleepers

Sleeping out, and kicking off their fundraising mission to raise money and awareness for street children across the world were the young women who had represented England at the 2014 Street Child World Cup. The beaming smiles on their faces as they spoke about their experiences in Brazil and the friends they made there was inspirational enough, let alone their determination to improve their own situations and the lives of others.

Each person had their own specific reasons for taking part, ‘sleeper’ Joe Williams summed up his underlying motivation: “If meeting street kids or hearing their stories doesn’t feel like a punch in the guts, there’s something wrong with you.”

Joe, who volunteered at the Street Child World Cup’s in South Africa 2010 and Brazil 2014, lost two friends who were former street boys in Durban. Joe had met the boys whilst volunteering at Umthombo, the NGO behind the South Africa Street Child World Cup Team. “It just shows that you can have been off the streets for years, but there is always the potential for it to drag you back in. I’d love one day for us to be able to work to fix the problems that put people on the streets in the first place, rather than having to help people who are already on the streets.”

Sleepers getting ready to sleep on the streets at the Big City Sleep
Sleepers getting ready to sleep on the streets at the Big City Sleep

Personal perspective provided James Goodchild, founder of Westbury Private Clients, with his motivation for taking part: “I’ve got three children of my own. It would be heart-breaking if they had to experience even half of what children who live on the streets go through.”

Lucy Nunn, from lawfirm FieldFisher, said the Big City Sleep was an accessible way to support a cause and learn more about the problems Street Child World Cup and ABC Trust are trying to tackle: “FieldFisher were looking for volunteers to take part in the Big City Sleep, and I thought it sounded like an amazing thing to do. I wanted to get involved to learn more about the issues homeless children face, and to get a perspective of what they go through, even if what we’re doing is just a tiny percentage of the challenges they face.”

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Sleeper slept on 1cm of cardboard boxes for the night

Lying on the pile of cardboard that was my bed for the evening and trying to get to sleep, I thought about why I was there. I volunteered at the Street Child World Cup in Brazil because I saw an opportunity to use my professional skills to contribute to a great cause.

What I didn’t fully anticipate was the effect that meeting the players at the Street Child World Cup would have on me. Listening to teenagers tell me stories about their families being torn apart by war, being drawn into gang and drug culture, enduring hunger, violence and worse, I found it difficult not to feel like I should help in any way I could. So when the Big City Sleep came up I was happy to make the 24 hour journey from my home on the Isle of Coll to London (one ferry, one car, two trains, one coach, one plane and the tube, more than 500 miles) to join the other volunteers on the floor of Old Spitalfields Market.

At 6am we were woken up, packed up our cardboard beds and moved on so the market could begin its normal Saturday routine. My abiding insight of the night was of the vulnerability of being on the streets: I was in a group of 50 people, with a security guard, yet the thought of being asleep in the open as city life went on around me made me nervous. How terrified I would be if I were truly sleeping on the street, and how much that would exacerbate the levels of stress and exhaustion, I can barely begin to imagine.

Before Friday I’d never slept on the streets before, but now I have. It has only increased my determination to help tackle homelessness: No child should have to live on the streets.

Photos courtesy of Street Child World Cup and Peter Watts

The Big City Sleep was organised by Street Child World Cup and Action for Brazil’s Children Trust, supported by Deutsche Bank Born to Be + StreetSmart and sponsored by Foresters Tech TimeOut with food provided by ‘Smiths’ of Spitalfields.

*Figures on the number of homeless people in the UK from Homeless Link;
Rough sleeping

It can be difficult to work out the number of people sleeping rough for a number of reasons. People bed down at different times, move about, and can be hidden away in derelict buildings. However, each year every local authority in England does estimate or count the number of people sleeping rough in their area.

This information is then submitted to the Department for Communities and Local Government and provides an estimate of the number of individuals sleeping out on any one night in England.

According to the latest figures, collected in the autumn of 2013 and published in February 2014, 2,414 people are estimated to be sleeping rough on any one night.

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