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Helping hand for homeless charity

44’s Emily New, roving reporter turned rough sleeper, spent a cold night on the streets to raise money and awareness for charity. Find out why her shelter-building skills left much to be desired – and why she realised that local support can make all the difference.

It was 11th November 2016 and I was sleeping rough.

The temperature had dropped to -1°C and heavy rain was forecast. My possessions included a sleeping bag, a roll mat, two food vouchers and a couple of cardboard boxes. With a long 12 hours stretching out before me, I set out to find a quiet grassy corner on which to create a makeshift bed for the night.

Unlike the thousands of people across the UK who face this as a nightly reality, I was taking part in a one-off sleep-out organised by local charity Helping Hands. With the support of my 44 colleagues, family and friends, I had raised more than £200 to add to the charity’s group total of approximately £11,500. This money would be used by the charity to create a drop-in facility for Warwickshire’s rough sleepers and vulnerable adults.

Check out my 12-hour diary to find out how I got on, and what I learnt along the way…


8pm – when we met Shelly

Shelly had slept rough in Leamington for years, before Helping Hands supported her in finding somewhere to live. She talked to us about how much she’d relied on the charity for support and thanked them and other local organisations for all their help.

8.30pm – when we realised how our donations would help…

Although figures for rough sleepers have almost doubled over the past five years[1], local support has increased too. “This time last year we had 25 people sleeping out with us – and now there are 100,” said Lianne Kirkman, Helping Hands charity founder. “It’s incredible to see this reaction and so many donations – this money will go a long way to helping those people who need it this winter.”

9pm – when I ate a jacket potato in record speed…

By this point any kind of hot food was welcome, so I used my food voucher to buy a jacket potato. We learnt that rough sleepers would usually pass over fruit and vegetables for carb-laden food. Although this food gives more warmth and energy, it also means that malnutrition is common among the homeless community.


10pm – when many shelter-related mistakes happened

My first mistake when building the shelter was not bringing a ground sheet. A member of the Army Reserve, who were on patrol that evening, quickly revealed that my cardboard box base would soon become soaked through.

My second mistake was not bringing anything waterproof to put over me. This is why so many rough sleepers look for doorways with some cover. Thankfully, I was able to borrow some spare tarpaulin from a fellow fundraiser.

My third mistake was channelling my inner Project Manager and putting together a five-step plan for shelter success – before realising that this plan was not going to plan. After ‘acquiring’ some bamboo poles and string, and asking the Army Reserve for some much-needed advice, my new home for the night was made. 

Midnight – when we had a two-minute silence

The 11th November was Remembrance Day. A significant number of homeless people are ex-servicemen and women – in fact, 22% of the homeless people in London have a service history. Jonathan Chilvers from the Salvation Army also told us about the ‘hidden homeless’ – those who aren’t sleeping rough, but were camping out on a friend’s floor, or squatting. On a typical November night, there are around 20 rough sleepers in Leamington – but it’s thought there are another 700 hidden homeless across Warwickshire also in need of support.


1am-6am – when every minute felt like an hour

I can safely say I got no sleep. The heat from my hand-warmers soon died and the rain was pouring down the edge of the tarpaulin onto my sleeping bag. Even with the Army Reserve on patrol, I felt very vulnerable – every bang from a car door slamming shut, or scream from a group of drunken passers-by made my stomach lurch. Homeless people are 13 times more likely to be affected by violence than the rest of the population – a shocking stat – and that much of this violence is perpetrated by the general public.[2]

6am-8.30am – when I had time to reflect (after three cups of tea)

Overall, my night sleeping rough was an incredibly eye-opening experience. When another group member joked that I had actually signed up to a two-day sleep-out, the thought almost made me cry. It’s easy to see why many rough sleepers spiral into addiction to cope.

But I also met some amazing people and heard some inspiring stories – stories that would never have been possible without the dedication and commitment of the Salvation Army and Helping Hands.

When you’re hungry, cold and isolated, it’s these local charities – and their supporters and volunteers – that truly make all the difference.

Images courtesy of Stewart Paul Beck.




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