On the 29th September I slept rough for the first time (officially anyway) in support of the homeless charity Simon on the Streets. SOTS have been through a major rebrand over the past few months and created an integrated marketing plan around the sleep out to raise awareness and ultimately generate revenue for the charity. I tasked myself with raising £1000 for them! The evening started off with a meeting in City Square at 9:30pm. We were all signed in and met up with friends and a few old faces I’d not seen for a while which was really nice. We then went on an escorted walk through the streets of Leeds, led by an ex-service user of the charity. Simon in the Streets provides outreach support to vulnerable people in the region. Their work is typically about building relationships with people who find it difficult to engage with society. Often these people are drug or alcohol addicts and can have complex mental health issues. As Leeds City Council have a zero tolerance on vagrancy these people need more help than ever to get on the housing or benefits ladders which will hopefully lead them to employment and back in to society. Paul was our designated guide along with Helen who works for Simon on the Streets. He was a really nice guy who’d obviously been through some harrowing times but had come out of the other end and was well on his way back in to getting employment. He told some heartbreaking stories about his experiences sleeping and living rough and showed us places where the homeless hide out overnight to protect themselves from the elements and other people. He categorically stated that without Simon on the Streets he would not be alive now – a sobering thought. We headed back to our designated rough sleeping area behind the Parish Church in Leeds City centre where one of my fellow sleepers, Mark Kelly, managed to scrounge a cardboard box that we then shared between three of us. We were massively fortunate that the weather was one of the nicest late September evenings you could have hoped for and so we got in to our sleeping bags in the early hours of the morning and fell in to a rather light sleep. Being used to some creature comforts and having just come back from a rather lavish weekend at the Grand Prix in Singapore I didn’t sleep well at all. Every time I moved in my sleeping bag I woke and as the night wore on the dew came down and, whilst I was warm, things started getting rather damp and therefore cold. Amazingly I was woken by the dulcet tones of the Director of SOTS, Clive Sandle – at 5AM! I could have easily had another couple of hours tucked up in my bag.
Jonathan Hirst tucked up in sleeping bag
Whilst we were in the relatively safety of a group and actually ended up only sleeping for 4 hours there was still an element of trepidation and nervousness leading up to the event and during it. I felt properly rough in the morning as I headed straight on to the office. Overall it was a very worthwhile experience and further cements my enthusiasm for a charity that receives no government funding and relies on corporate and personal donations. He staff at SOTS work very hard supporting the people that are often unseen in society and that we often choose to ignore. One final word goes to the businesses that have supported SOTS during this campaign, McGrath O’Toole for the fantastic new branding, First10 for moving this brand on-line in the form of their new website and finally Ptarmigan Bell Pottinger for putting together the PR activity that resulted in amazing coverage in the regional press, on radio and TV. I hope that the event has raised a significant amount of money for SOTS to help them expand the great work they do. I also hope that the publicity around this will encourage more people to donate to a charity that works tirelessly for the good of vulnerable people in our region. If you haven’t donated yet but would like to then please go to www.justgiving.com/jonathan-hirst0 (Zero) or straight to www.simononthestreets.co.uk. Jonathan Hirst