01 February 2024

Young Yorkshire Methodists sleep out for homelessness

Young Methodists spent a cold and damp night sleeping in the garden of Lidgett Methodist Church in Acomb, near York on the night of Saturday 20 January. The event was held to increase awareness of the situation facing the local homeless community and to raise money for two of the charities who support them.

“It really was a pretty miserable experience,” said Victoria Etherington, Children’s and Youth Ministry Leader for Yorkshire North and East Methodist District and York Circuit. “It was so hard for any of us to get any sleep. We were safe, but for those who are forced to sleep rough, there is a real fear of violence.”

The young people had sleeping bags and tents, a luxury not available to all those who are sleeping rough but, never the less, gave the young people some experience of the struggles facing those who are forced to live on the street. 

Two of the young Methodists involved described what the night outside had meant to them. Amy, commented, “I think I'm very privileged to live in a house where I feel safe and secure and won’t be moved on.  By raising money, we are helping those who don’t have this privilege themselves.  Josh said, “Homelessness is such a big issue that there should be a way to prevent it.  Taking part in the sleep out showed my support for those who have to sleep rough while also helping to raise awareness of the issues.”

The event raised much-needed funds for two local charities who help those living rough.  One of them is Carecent, based at Central Methodist Church in St Saviourgate, York, the other Inspire North, which operates across the North England providing housing and mental health support for the homeless.

Carecent is a breakfast centre for those who are homeless and otherwise socially excluded. This includes those who are sleeping on the streets, as well as those who are accessing emergency accommodation within resettlement hostels. Many of our service users have multiple, complex needs, including mental health, substance abuse, gambling or an offending history.

Kiera Snaith is Project Leader at Carecent, she commented “We offer drop-ins with podiatrists, hairdressers, housing services, sexual health clinics, Hep C Testing and much more. Alongside this we also run sessions including art classes, a walking group and drama.

“We helped support this year’s sleep out by developing a housing game for those who were participating on the night to play. The idea was to show the complexity of some of our clients lives, and that a lot of our customer’s journey is not as simple as 'they chose this life'.

 “Homelessness is a complex issue and we only see the tip of the iceberg.”

One of the adults who took part in the sleep out and helped watch over the young people to ensure they  were safe was the Yorkshire North and East District Chair Leslie Newton, who shares this reflection on the experience.

 “I joined a group of young people and leaders as we braved the elements to ‘Sleep Out for Homelessness.’  This is the 5th year that this event has happened and every year someone asks why we can’t do it in the summer rather than on a cold, windy January night.  But that, of course, is part of the point! We got cold, we weren’t able to sleep much, and we felt just a little of how desperately hard it must be to not have a warm house and bed.  However, we were all deeply aware of just what a token effort it was! Throughout the night we knew that we could go back into a warm building in the morning, and have hot drinks and breakfast.  We could then have a shower and get warm and put on fresh clothes. The following night we would be back in our normal comfortable spaces.

 Over the years these sleep outs have raised well over £20,000 for local charities who are working with the homeless. And every year we invite those we’re supporting to come and help us learn more about the acute needs. This year we used a role-play game to explore the problems faced by care and social workers trying to place homeless people in hostels. The game involved negotiating some of the issues when trying to meet the needs of homeless people and coping when demand exceeds hostel resources.

The challenges around homelessness are enormous.  But as part of a justice-seeking church I’m so proud of our young people for pushing us to do this: to experience at least something of the hardship, and to raise money and awareness of the need.  We’re already planning for next year’s January sleep out and are re-doubling our commitment to do what we can to make a difference.

You can donate in support of the sleep out here.

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