Yesterday, I slept on the street in London. With a mattress of flattened cardboard boxes and a sleeping bag to keep me warm I experienced what many people do every night – except for me it was just one night. I had access to a toilet and hot drinks, as well as the protection of security staff. This is not the experience of people living on the street and I can only imagine how frightening and difficult life is for them.
I was taking part in the Glass Door Sleep Out and annual event run by the charity to raise awareness and funds to support people affected by homelessness. Glass Door provides safe shelter, food, and advice to people affected by homelessness.
I was nervous about taking part. It was way out of my comfort zone, but I am always encouraging others to try new things and so I pushed myself. It felt strange travelling into London in the evening when I would normally be settling in for the night. I am sixty-two next month and live in a quiet rural area. To be travelling alone into the night and unknown, my bed the sleeping bag I carried in a laundry bag – it was unsettling. My family were concerned for my welfare, and I expect my sanity. But I have always pushed my boundaries and getting older is no excuse to opt for the easy life. If we do that we stop growing and learning new things.
I love London but had not visited since the pandemic. It was amazing to be walking along London’s fashionable Kings Road at 10pm on a Friday night. The city was buzzing and I felt alive. Such a relief after the confines of lockdown life.
The Sleep Out took place in Duke of York Square off the Kings Road. We unrolled our sleeping bags and set up for the night alongside a brightly lit restaurant where diners sat outside dressed in their finery. Such a contrast between two worlds.
I do not think I slept much, if at all, although the lovely woman, Joyce, who slept alongside me said I had. She too slept for a while as I could tell by her breath pattern. Fortunately, it did not rain that night but it was colder than I expected. Despite layers of clothing, I felt the night chill. I got cramp in my legs – thighs, calves, and feet. Someone’s headphone cuff must have slipped because I picked up the constant drone of a male narrator telling a story. That noise was more annoying than the traffic. It was a relief when the audiobook came to an end and it was then that I must have slipped into sleep. When I removed my eye mask to check the time it was 4.30am and people were starting to pack away their kit. We had to leave by 5am to make way for a street market. It reminded me of a long-haul flight, that moment when the lights go on and breakfast is served although it feels like the middle of the night. I had that same disorientated feeling too, like jet-lag when you are incredibly tired and over stimulated.
I returned to a cosy home, a hot bath, and warm bed. Later that day there was a fierce gale and heavy rain. As I sat snuggled in a fleece watching back-to-back films and dozing, I imagined what it would have felt like if I was still out there – tired, and miserable with no place to shelter from the storm.
I hope that I never forget this experience. That I do not take for granted the luxury of my life and give back by serving others.
If you would like to take part in next year’s Sleep Out or want to know more about Glass Door London https://www.glassdoor.org.uk
I posted a video diary of my experience here: https://fb.watch/8pGVv6m9mV/