Firstly, I was, and remain, both grateful and welcoming to all of the inspiring snapchats, messages and pennies that came flooding my way. That such an event could raise £300 for charity from my sponsorship alone surprised me.
It mostly came as a shock though not because most of my friends are students with funds that most likely reflect mine at the minute (a saddening sight), or because they're all super-stinge, but rather because it occurred to me that what I was doing wasn't really all that special. It seems pretty brave for an 18 year old girl to be roughing it on the grim and grizzly streets of a town centre on a Friday night when she could be lapping up the Tequila slammers in some swanky bar in celebration of her birthday the following day, I admit. However, when you delve a bit deeper I only really did for seven hours or so what homeless people do day-in and day-out with no sponsorship attached.
For me, the experience was a bit of fun - mostly because I knew that I had a hot bath, a double bed that could match the Queen's in comfort, and lots of shiny new presents to open (thanks girls) the next day. Walking off the streets and into my mum's car as she picked me up I looked and felt shoddy, but as I say, knew that it'd all be fixed in a matter of minutes when I got home. To do a sleep out day after day and for that to be your only routine is pretty unimaginable. In the few hours I was on the streets - aside from the two and a half that I actually managed to sleep - it was all pretty thought-provoking, and, even with a hundred people around me, particularly lonely. This is what I have to say:
I suspect that I was treated astoundingly differently to how the everyday homeless person would be: that guy who receives nothing but blank stares and a bit of loose change. So, whilst putting myself out of a life of luxury for a few hours is quite distinct, and perhaps a bit brave, it really is only a sample of what men and women up and down this country experience 24/7. In addition, I knew that I had safety around me and so no-one would be out to steal either my midnight snack or phone, but living it the real way you would turn timid at every noise, anxious at what or who was around the corner. I couldn't do it.
You may complain about going to lectures, or clocking in at nine for the daily grind, but imagine not having the luxury of an income. I don't mean to go all philosophical and high-and-mighty here and, as I said, I'm so appreciative for every single donation seeing as the money will go to help those who I am discussing now. It's just a very thought-provoking topic for a country as developed as ours in the modern day.
A huge part of the issue is perception. For two morbid years I worked in an outdoor shop, not because I'm an outdoors enthusiast but rather it was a job and I wanted some pocket money. Anyhow, through the two years I spent there and saw just how big profit margins were on outdoor jackets and the like, it seems insane to me that a company like North Face or Rab couldn't donate a few of their jackets to people on the streets, with other industries (e.g. food, toiletries) following suit. On the sleep out I thought about this for a good hour and contemplated why on earth a company who have the spare goods to relieve at least one homeless problem (weather), and the profits to cope, wouldn't utilise those resources. Then, I realised it's all about perception. If a homeless person was seen to be wearing a North Face garment then who would want to wear the same? That's not my opinion, just what I established to be general consensus - and it stinks. It stinks that in 2014, as I said, in a developed country like ours - or anywhere for that matter - that both people and brands wouldn't be willing to put themselves out in fear of damaging their image. Shouldn't it be the reverse? Shouldn't the ethos of helping others be the positive image we aim to chase? I think so, and that's one of the core problems.
Homeless people are largely seen as some kind of underclass who are sleeping on the streets because of their own actions or addictions. When you look into it this just isn't the case. I don't have any statistical backing here but I prefer to see drugs and alcohol as the consequence, not the cause. A whole array of people from all walks of life end up on the streets and in shelters. Yet, they're looked down on by some. Even using the word 'they' seems to indicate a collectivity, which you wouldn't expect elsewhere. Typecasting a whole social group just wouldn't be tolerated, but we do it mindlessly with homeless people.
After recent laws have been implemented, homeless people can no longer beg for money. The homelessness project for whom I fundraised have stood out in agreement with this and instead encourage buying a homeless person some food or a hot drink as opposed to giving them money. Food for thought. There are a lot of things you can do; even just acknowledging that a homeless person is there, and exists, and is a person after all, should be the done thing. Don't snub them, you're no better. My granddad always told my mum to remember the humbling and inspiring phrase, 'you are better than no one, and no one is better than you,' and I stand by it now.
It continues to amaze me how many people donate to fundraising events like 'Children In Need' and 'Comic Relief' where you are given an annual report in the form of a TV programme of where your money goes but never get fully tangible proof - especially after a recent news story that uncovered how such events don't directly spend the funds on people in need but rather invest it in companies like BAE as well as tobacco and alcohol firms to try and make a return, before passing it on to those it's supposed to be helping (but that's a different rant). Yet, when an opportunity presents itself to directly help someone in need, I've witnessed so many people just act blasé and look down their nose.
So, I'm not going to change the world with one fundraiser or one blog post but I hope I may have at least influenced and altered a few attitudes to an everyday issue that is played down by so many.