My Experience as a Rough Sleeper
Most people have an idea what it would be like to be a `rough sleeper`, that is, someone who has no place to spend the night and finds a place to `bed down` night after night. I decided to experience a night in the open after talking with some of Merthyr Tydfil`s homeless people and getting bitterly cold and being told the Night Shelter would not be available until January. On Sunday, 3rd December at 10.00pm I was ready with my bed of cardboard, a blanket and sleeping bag to spend the night in the grounds of St. David`s Church. I had plenty of warm clothes which would keep me warm. Ian was spending the night in the car, nearby, but was not to help me except in an emergency. Paul Hughes came to help me set up and Viv and Lynda came down with chocolate bars and crisps. Councillor Geraint Thomas, too, came along to give his support. It was very kind and thoughtful of these friends and others who phoned me beforehand to wish me well. Most of the goodies which Lynda brought had to be declined as I didn`t want to have things that the homeless wouldn`t have. It was a mild night with showers of rain; I was grateful for this, probably I would settle down quite easily. At about 11.00pm, I was wishing I had a bottle of sherry to numb my wandering thoughts and help me to fall asleep. No such luck; nothing to eat, nothing to drink. After all, where would a homeless person get a drink after closing time? The lights from the library carpark gave me some comfort but I couldn`t get comfortable and the thoughts going through my head were keeping me from sleeping. I was also concerned for Ian – after all, he didn’t choose this idea but he wouldn`t let me be out on my own. What if someone approached the car? What if someone came along and asked me for something – who knows what? Would Ian be alright? What would I do? I had my whistle, torch and phone at my side, would they be enough? Occasionally I got up to check that Ian was alright, sometimes he was dozing (he didn`t see me at the window of the car) while other times he was reading a book. As time went by, it started to rain heavily, and the wind rose, causing my cover to blow and make the rain blow into my space. Now there were strange unidentifiable sounds, sounds of voices still heard a little way away, coming nearer and then disappearing – will they come near me? They didn`t but I was very glad I hadn`t chosen a Friday or Saturday night. Lots of shouting at this time, although it was well past midnight; were the pubs still open?
Still some strange sounds and the wind was getting stronger. Were there any animals about. Fortunately, I didn`t see any rats or mice nor even a stray cat.
My eyes were heavy now, perhaps sleep would come soon. The wind was still blowing the covers. The feeling of confidence that I had felt before leaving home had gone. I had a feeling of nervousness; it was scary and very eerie. I started to feel cold, but with all my warm layers, I would probably get no colder. I wondered how many people were still about. Would there be any homeless people nearby? This was no fun, I was longing for a warm drink and something to eat. Wondering what sleep I would get – probably none with all the thoughts racing round inside my head. What about all the empty buildings in Merthyr Tydfil? Could suitable unemployed people be given an incentive to “man” the Night Shelter sometimes? Until now I thought I could manage this experience easily. How wrong I was. Did the homeless carry any food with them to keep hunger at bay? Perhaps they stole food. Could anyone blame them? It was horrible. I was so lucky to have Ian nearby; I looked through the window of the car; he may be dozing off occasionally but at this time he was reading. He looked ok but he didn`t notice me. The rain had stopped, and the wind had died down. There was a partially clear sky where three stars were visible. If Ian was with me, he would have been giving me an astronomy lesson. The times he used to explain all the stars to me while I`d be freezing, with teeth chattering, when we`d been out for an evening before we were married. People have been telling me for some time that I should give up some of the things I`d done for years. Hmmm. I`ve given up some things and what happens? God has moved me to undertake this experience – I would never have thought of doing it. Thankfully my faith must be strong because I knew He was watching over me and would keep Ian and me safe. A prayer I prayed: May the Holy Spirit guide all the volunteers, including Mothers` Union and our parish to help the homeless in whatever way they are able and may the homeless be encouraged to seek the help they need to overcome their problems. May we be helped to understand the vulnerable and may trust grow between us all. Homelessness is a very complex issue and it will take ever so much to improve the lives of these vulnerable people.
How do these people get by? How much sleep do they get? By this time, this was about 2.30am, all these thoughts were in my head. I was getting colder and I was so uncomfortable, sore and aching. This must have been my lowest point. The rain had started again, and the wind had risen. More strange noises around the place. I took some photos to do something and for proof that I was sticking it out. No way was sleep coming to me; some relaxing exercises and breathing exercises did not help. Round about 4.00am, (I kept looking at my watch to see how the time was going). Funny how it didn`t seem to fly by as it does normally, traffic seemed to be moving again. So far, I’d managed not to want the loo – I hoped I could last until 6.00am. Traffic and people`s voices resumed as the world was waking. I thought how strange similar noises can have different effects on me. These sounds now were a comfort to me although it was still dark. The end of my ordeal was in sight. Ian had been amazing, just being near me and not trying to persuade me to give it up. Please don`t let him suffer any ill effects. No need now for my whistle, torch and phone which I`d had in my hands or very close to me all night. I wonder if they would have saved me in an emergency. It was approaching 6.00am when I hoped the rain would ease off, so I could gather my things together, get them inside and go home to a hot bath, breakfast, a hot drink and – sleep in my lovely, warm, comfortable bed. I want to thank everyone who called me mad but supported me in so many ways – the sponsorship which has raised nearly £600.00; thank you Jacqui, for suggesting that; Paul for helping prepare my `bed`, Viv and Lynda for coming with some goodies. Sorry Lynda, I didn`t want to seem ungrateful not accepting all that you offered us. By the middle of the night I was wishing I had! Reverend Charlotte has been a strength to me. For the phone calls and texts before and after from friends. Thank you all so very much and most of all, Ian, who, once he knew I was serious about doing this did not try to stop me although I knew he would have loved to have heard me say” I can`t do it”. If only the vulnerable homeless people could have as much love as I have received this week “what a wonderful world this could be”.