Kids making snowmen, drinking hot chocolate, and falling asleep before bedtime after a long day outside are some of the things that spring to mind when I think of winter. But, what happens when you don’t get to go back inside? When there isn’t a hot drink to give you a bit of respite from the cold? What happens after dark?
Over 50 students volunteered to find out the answers to these questions by spending the night in an unheated Shine on a cold Friday night at the end of February. This event, led by The co-operative academy of Leeds, with support from The Ahead Partnership, Yorkshire Building Society and the West Yorkshire Police in connection with Centre Point was designed to raise awareness for the plight of homeless people around Leeds.
What they discovered was life changing.
While allowing themselves the luxury of a single sleeping bag and cover from the elements in a very cold Shine building, the students quickly realised this wasn’t going to be the usual fun time sleepover. No pizza, no TV, no wifi, no bed. In fact, homeless youth often remain invisible to the public as they find sofas to sleep on at friends houses — it’s called sofa surfing. The students saddened by this reality. Many spent the night discussing the hardship of homelessness and took part in a series of team building exercises throughout the night guided by the West Yorkshire Police.
When talking to news crews and relating their experience to bleary eyed parents summoned to pick them up at 5am the following morning, the students had this to say, “We didn’t realise how luxurious our everyday life actually is.” Others went further to say that they were now personally worried for homeless people — something they’d given little thought to prior to the sleep out.
The Shine team members joining the students on the night said it was “surreal — it challenged our expectations of sleep, comfort, and safety, that we take for granted.” I hope this tiny experiment with over 50 students, and the nearly £1,000 raised for Centre Point, raises your awareness of homelessness. If you want to move beyond being aware to providing tangible support for efforts to eradicate youth homelessness, please consider giving to the campaign here.