Tuesday, 24 May 2011

sleep out

so last friday night was the Big Issue's Sleep Out event where along with over 100 other people I slept outside (although technically it was under a roof) at Spitalfields Market to try and raise money for the Big Issue charity.

i won’t go into the evening stuff because although hearing the vendors' stories was enlightening there’s similar things already on the internet for people to read and digest for themselves and anyway it was about the actual sleep out.

when i signed up for the event i knew it wasn’t going to be that physically challenging and although I expected it to be uncomfortable, being surrounded by other people in a cordoned off area of the market doesn’t exactly recreate the psychological reality of what it would feel like to sleep on the streets by yourself. of course even without this aspect it’s still really difficult to sleep. even inside a sleeping bag on cardboard all you feel is cold concrete and being in central London it never gets totally dark or quiet.

eventually i did get to sleep but i think the next morning was harder. waking up in the same clothes i wore and slept in the night before, not being able to have a shower, having to use grim public toilets and then rolling up all my stuff into a backpack was quite an eye opener. what do you do and where do you go now were my first thoughts and although i had the comfort of knowing i was going back home, imagining what it would be like to wake up like that every day made me appreciate how difficult it must be to start to turn your life around after living without any structure or support for a while.

hearing and seeing firsthand how people in that situation can go from selling a magazine for £2 each (which they have to buy from the big issue for £1 each) and saving up that money to get off the streets was an incredible thing. the Big Issue's ethos is 'a hand up not a hand out' and whilst i love what the magazine stands for, after hearing about the experiences of some of the vendors - how tough it is to sell in this current frugal economic climate and the fact that 1 in 3 vendors are mugged for all their earnings - left me with no illusions about just how much of a challenge it is for them to keep selling the magazine and get by solely off their earnings.

if you’re like me and wish you could do something but don’t know how to or if what you do will make any difference then i would really recommend buying a magazine and supporting a vendor directly. i can say i’ve seen that it really does make a huge difference.


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