The time George Orwell spent in poverty famously became the basis for Down and Out in Paris and London. On Saturday 1st December, students and members of the congregation of Jesmond Parish Church came together to emulate Orwell, by sleeping outside the church with the aim of raising enough money to take 12 homeless people off the streets of Newcastle for the month of December.
While many of Newcastle’s homeless have been in such a condition for years, we were homeless for just a night. The other crucial difference is that we’re students, so we’re probably going to tell more people about what we did than Orwell ever would.
The night – dubbed the Big Sleep Out – began on the considerably warmer inside of Jesmond Parish church. The event was originally planned to take place in the Civic Centre gardens but because the ground was totally saturated, the location was changed and instead participants slept outside on the grounds of the Jesmond church. though it was still cold and wet. Ramzi Adcock, the organiser, spoke briefly and cheerfully about the logistics of the event, before handing over to Michael, a man who had experienced homelessness for several months. Considerably more solemn than Adcock, Michael opened with a prayer, and explained that no-one here tonight would experience real homelessness. Real homelessness, he elucidated, lies in isolation: on the streets, he made clear that the cold and rain were the least of one’s concerns.
Once we got outside to embark on the Big Sleep Out, Michael’s prophecy came true. With so many people being out together doing the same thing, mostly with their friends or fellow church-goers, it was hard for a certain community spirit to not make the sleep out a little easier.
That said, the Big Sleep Out was far from unhelpful: participants were asked to fund-raise, an effort which generated over £20,000. This constituted a significant success, as the cost of housing 12 rough sleepers for the month would have cost a little over £7,000. The remainder of the money raised will therefore go towards further supporting the homeless people into the new year and helping them find work.
Once the morning arrived, participants were chirpy and full of energy, content with the knowledge that what they had done would make a difference, certainly in the short term and, hopefully, the long term as well.
Michael Sutherland, the man who organised the event, spoke to BBC Newcastle to discuss the event in further detail.
He said, “A year ago I was made homeless and found Jesus which changed my life.” Discussing what it was like during the Beast from the East in Winter of 2017, he said that it was through reading the Bible in the bitter cold that gave him hope. He also stated that the idea for the Big Sleep out was just a crazy idea that grew and grew. “I had no doubt that people would get involved with the event, I had faith.”
He also stated that the mental side of homelessness, the loneliness, is far worse that the physical side. Therefore, thankfully those who were involved in the sleep out would not have experienced the true trauma that homelessness brings.
He claimed that the physical things like the cold are uncomfortable but survivable. It is the feeling of completely hopelessness and that believing that nobody cares that drives homeless people to take their own lives. Sutherland was very happy with the amount raised by the event and hopes to organise another sleep out next year.