Today’s guest blog is from John Muirhead, Volunteer Co-ordinator at Cyrenians FareShare.
Never before have I had to think so carefully about what I wanted to carry in my rucksack as, at 6pm on Saturday the 9th of December, I walked up to Sleep in the Park in Princes St Gardens to meet with the Cyrenians team. I asked myself, ‘have I got enough food and drink, enough clothes, and what about a book to read. What were my priorities? What home comforts do I want to take with me?’ One thing I did bring was a hot water bottle – I’d heard that there would be free teas and coffees provided all night, so I thought perhaps they wouldn’t mind filling up my bottle with hot water. But as it turned out, there wasn’t any room for a hot water bottle. I had chosen to bring a smaller sleeping bag to leave space for more food in my rucksack. But what with my 2 T-shirts, 2 jumpers, coat and Cyrenians T-shirt on top, I couldn’t fit my well-padded self into the sleeping bag! I was freezing, which wasn’t helped by it being the coldest night of the year. And I was glad it wasn’t raining because I forgot to carry my umbrella with me too! I didn’t carry the right things with me and I didn’t sleep a wink!
In contrast to my feeble, inexperienced efforts, one of my team-mates seemed to be quite at ease with the whole situation, as she slept soundly. She had learnt how to cope through her experience of sleeping rough for over a year, and had developed a strategy of power napping through the night. Her ability to look out for others when awake, coupled with her peaceful, rhythmical and annoying snoring when asleep, confirmed her confidence in how to survive a night under the stars. (‘Good for her’, I remember muttering to myself). She knew exactly what to carry and what were the right priorities.
So, about 3am I accepted that I wasn’t going to get any sleep and got up to get some hot tea and then chips later on, and then, feeling self-justified, a burger even later on, leaving all the cold food I carried with me untouched.
But it wasn’t just the cold that was keeping me awake. I was buzzing at being part of the whole Social Bite project, albeit for one night only. I was inspired by the number of people who were involved. There were 8,000 at the Sleep Out, from all walks of life, including the corporate world, us 3rd-sector organisations, government representatives and private individuals, all coming together for one cause: to end homelessness in Scotland. And we had a brilliant concert to entertain us for the first half of the night too (and as a special treat for me, Deacon Blue sang some of their old favourites – I’d always wanted to see them live).
At 6am, after gathering all our things to carry home and trying to find a taxi to take us to our warm showers and beds, I asked some of the team how they found the night. Comments included: ‘Horrible!’ and ‘Well done everyone but let’s not do this again!’, and finally, ‘I’m too cold to comment!’.
And I would add my comment to theirs: it was a tough not get any sleep, but I don’t think we could call it rough. It was only a glimpse of what it’s like for homeless people, as it was a one off and we still had luxuries to tap into throughout the night, of hot food and drink, security and medical staff and even a warm room to rest in. And after all the initial humming and hawing of what to bring, what I’m left carrying is a better appreciation of all the good things we have in our lives that we don’t have to bear on our backs wherever we go. And I’m also left carrying hope of what we can do when we focus our energies together to help the homeless people of our city and country.
Finally, thank you to all who sponsored the Cyrenians team – we managed to raise over £2,200. And if you want to, you can still add to the fundraising via this link here.
21st December 2017