11:00AM, Saturday 02 December 2017
With winter in full swing, surviving the night becomes a bigger challenge for the homeless in Slough. Express reporter James Hockaday took part in London and Slough Run’s Slough Sleepout for the Homeless, which raises money for its annual winter night shelters.
As I slid my numb feet into my sleeping bag and shuffled into my cardboard box for the night at the London and Slough Run’s (LASR) third annual Slough Sleepout for the Homeless, one of the thoughts that crossed my mind was how anyone could do this every single night.
Fortunately, the fundraiser, held on Saturday at St Bernard’s Catholic Grammar School, Langley Road, helps to make sure that homeless people in the borough have somewhere warm to stay during the harsh winter months.
LASR’s winter night shelter project sees churches across the borough taking it in turns every night from January to March, hosting between 20 to 25 rough sleepers for the night, with volunteers provid-ing blankets, a hot meal and breakfast.
As well as providing a place to sleep, LASR’s workers talk to people who use the night shelter and try and address what can often be a multitude of challenges in their lives to try and get them off the streets for good.
Out of the 47 people who used the 2016 shelter, 22 were found long-term accommodation and 11 ended up in employment.
LASR volunteer John Goudie, who was named Volunteer of the Year at the Slough Council for Voluntary Service Awards last month, helps out shelter users who have strained relationships with other organisations.
“As well as saving lives we are in the business of changing lives,” said LASR chairman John Power as he opened up this year’s sleep-out, which was attended by almost 100 people, compared to 50 last year.
Attendees, including several Slough borough councillors, raised money for the charity by collecting sponsorship before braving the cold winter night inside cardboard boxes.
As much as I wanted to get plenty of quotes down on my shorthand notepad, I found it increasingly harder as the night went on as my fingers got colder and stiffer.
On the night, MP for Slough Tan Dhesi, who stayed for the whole night with his wife Manveen, said: “There are so many people sleeping out rough within our community. Just by doing it for a night we are raising awareness about them.”
The Labour MP called the experience ‘eye-opening’.
“It was difficult to sleep rough for one cold night but there are so many vulnerable people who have to do so night after night during the winter,” he said.
“We need to do more to tackle the increasing trend of homelessness and people relying on food banks in our supposedly rich advanced nation. We often underestimate the consequences of harsh policies taken by governments.
“The effects of homelessness are devastating on the individual, as well as families and society.”
John was glad to see Tan and Manveen, who together raised more than £1,000, stick it out for the whole night.
“A lot of the politicians show up for 15 minutes and then, off to the next function,” he said.
“It was good having him there throughout.”
As cold as it was on the night, spirits were kept high with snacks and hot drinks, a group sing-along and music from singer Patti Boulaye, who was there in person, even though she was supposed to receive a lifetime achievement award in Marble Arch that night.
As everyone settled down to catch whatever sleep they could, volunteers handed out cardboard boxes, roll mats and duvets to anyone who needed them, which made me think about rough sleepers who might have to survive without these basic provisions.
Despite it being cold enough for frost to build up on people’s cars, I luckily managed to get at least a few hours' kip.
More than £30,000 was raised this year, far exceeding the £15,000 needed to run the shelter, leaving extra cash to go towards buying a new minibus for the charity.
LASR is holding a volunteer training day on Saturday, December 9, for anyone who wants to help at next year’s night shelter. The session will run from 2pm to 5.30pm at Holy Family Catholic Church in Trelawney Avenue, Langley.
Attendees should email firstname.lastname@example.org to register in advance.
Visit www.thelondonandsloughrun.com for more information on LASR.
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