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Sleeping with Simon

11 September 2015
Sleeping with Simon
The ethos of Yorkshire based charity, Simon on the Streets, is ‘No one should go unsupported’. Whilst this concept is what many recognise as a universal truth, the reality is very far removed from the ideal. The number of people sleeping rough in England has risen by an appalling 55% since 2010, a trend which is very worrying. According to a report published by The Institute for Fiscal Studies, an additional 700,000 adults will plunge into poverty by the end of 2015, and with 52% of those seeking help with homelessness being under the age of 25, it’s our the nation’s youth who stand to suffer increasingly as time passes.

Various personal issues can lead to homelessness, such as addiction, mental illness, domestic abuse and the heavy burden of debt. We might agree that with increasing cuts to benefits and a general lack of support for those with these difficulties, the problem will be exacerbated, placing even more pressure on the work of the many homelessness charities across the UK. It seems, therefore, that Simon on the Streets will play an ever more crucial role for Leeds' disadvantaged community.

The issue of homelessness is usually far more complex than putting a roof over someone’s head for the night. Homelessness can seem like an alien concept, making it difficult to know how to react or empathise. In an effort to combat this, Simon on the Streets has created ‘Sleep with Simon’, an annual fundraiser where participants raise funds by sleeping rough for the night. Sleep with Simon makes sure the independent charity is able to keep on helping the often forgotten victims of Leeds, Bradford and Huddersfield who have no choice but to bed down in the streets. Simon on the Streets emphasises that this is by no means an effort to replicate the harrowing experience of sleeping rough in a city. However, the event does serve as an opportunity for participants to understand some of the challenges that members of the homeless community face on a daily basis.

Alongside the actual sleep out, participants can experience a rare opportunity to hear talks from some of the service users who Simon on the Streets has previously supported. Aissa Gallie, Development Manager for Simon on the Streets, emphasizes that the event is an opportunity for “people to come into an environment where they can gain understanding and hopefully some empathy for people that are sleeping rough.”

“It can be a bit of a sensory overload.” Aissa warns. “You can hear things clearly and are much more aware of sirens and people passing. You get that embodiment of being outside in the city. A lot of people come away with a much deeper understanding of our client group and an experience of how hard it is being out at night in the city.”

In addition to beginning to form an understanding of the physical hardship of homelessness, participants often feel a glimpse of the isolation that rough sleepers feel every day of their lives. “We’ve had many people say that even though they’re with other people supporting them in the fundraiser, as well as our on-site team, they’re really lonely. It’s quite a strange experience, to be surrounded by other people but be very lonely.” Although, aside from the challenges involved in the sleep out, Aissa is quick to add, “It’s also quite a laugh as well as being meaningful!” Along with the company of other participants there are amenities on site such as an all-night security guard, toilets and refreshments.

Anyone keen on taking part in this amazing, worthwhile experience is advised to layer up and to bring a sleeping bag as well as money for refreshments. Staff are also on hand to give an induction and tips on how to make a shelter. Although it is in no way comparable to the actual physicality of being homeless, Sleep with Simon provides a timely, important and insightful experience of sleeping rough, giving a window into indiscriminately unfortunate circumstances that could have befallen any one of us.

For information on the next Sleep Out visit the website

By Joseph Birch
Joseph is a Volunteer Writer for Leeds Living covering events all across the city, on topics such as eat/drink, retail therapy, music/dance and culture.