What do you think when you see a homeless person on the street? Do you avoid them? Turn your nose up at them? Or do you just ignore them? The majority of people think that the homeless are on the street due to drug abuse, alcoholism, or crime, but if you spent the time to talk to a genuine homeless person yourself, you’d discover that this is usually not the case. The lady outside Waitrose in Caversham has fled her country with her children in order to protect them from civil war. She now sells The Big Issue for a living. And the girl who sits on the street corner by the church in Reading? She was being sexually abused by her step-father in Manchester and had nowhere else to go. I watched a documentary on TV about the homeless once, and when interviewed, these vulnerable individuals said the worst thing about living on the street was the fact that the everyday passers-by did not seem to notice their existence. So what do I do when I see a homeless person on the street? I smile.
My mum and I decided to get involved with Launchpad Reading (a charity that aim to help the vulnerable and the homeless) and their Big Sleep Out 2013. The idea is to get sponsored to sleep in a box for a night in order to raise as much money as possible. So on 30th August 2013, my mum and I went off with our boxes and our sleeping bags, wearing old hoodies and warm socks. After a series of speeches from the organisers, a selection of volunteers and the clients themselves it was ‘lights out!’ at 11pm.
I crawled into my box (which I’d covered in gaffa tape to hold it together) and wiggled around uncomfortably to stare up at a not-so-picturesque view of, believe it or not, the inside of a box. The next 7 hours felt like the longest of my whole life. The noise, damp, claustrophobia, fear of strange animals, fear of strange people, fear of the general outside kept me awake the entire night. In fact I was quite honestly relieved to discover that it was time to wake up at 5.45am. Luckily for us, it was a warm, dry summer’s evening. I couldn’t even begin to think how difficult it would’ve been to sleep in a box in sub-zero temperatures or in the pouring rain. Despite being relieved to finally awake, I was still absolutely exhausted. I hadn’t brushed my teeth, washed, eaten. My hair was greasy, my clothes were covered in dirt, my mouth tasted foul and all I deeply, desperately wanted, was my bed.
But I also felt pleased. I was pleased that I’d finally got a tiny step closer to understanding what it must be like to not have a home to go back to at the end of the day. I felt like I’d earned the £155 I’d raised on my ‘just giving’ page, and that through telling people about my experience, I could encourage others to support such a worthwhile cause. My ‘just giving’ page is still active so please feel free to take a look at my photos or donate if you feel able: http://www.justgiving.com/emmarealdavies But if you’re not, don’t worry, just remember it’s the little things that make a difference.