9 Years of Sleeping Out To Help Out: Fundraising Reflections

Do not quit this work…the work of noticing people. (Terence Lester)

2024 marks my 9th year of joining a group to fundraise for Webber Street Day Centre. Based near to Waterloo Station, Southwark, Webber Street acts as a base for a wide range of support services for those experiencing homelessness. Guests can access practical care (hot meals and safe spaces), prayer and Bible study if they fancy it, art classes, foot care, book a shower and, for some who are ready, supported independent housing. Webber Street also enables people to have a permanent address to get mail and vital Internet access.

Like Terence Lester, London City Mission’s work, supported by volunteers from local churches, has made me see people differently. No longer do I see ‘the homeless’, but people. Dignity and hope are key ingredients of the services offered — and these qualities have rubbed off on me. In going to participate in fundraiser sleepouts at Webber Street itself, I’ve started thinking differently too — as well as seeing.

It is easy to walk on by, to step on or over, ignore, disrespect those on the streets. To not see. To feel hassled and want to criminalise and remove. To blame and shame. Instead, Webber Street gets me seeing, caring, loving and wanting to spread hope. At the moment, this is (for me) is about acknowledging — to smile, make friendly eye contact, be respectful. I’m still not sure about offering money, but as Webber Street volunteers and workers say — ‘why not?’ A key point is to offer choice — to restore humanity — and in a carb heavy world, to offer healthy fruit. (Such as an easily peeled banana). To take the time to chat, to pass the time of day, to speak to a person.

But these lessons have all come as a result of participating in the annual LCM fundraising sleepouts. When I first heard out about it, I wanted to do it. My friends thought I was ‘mad’ or ‘in danger’, then ‘brave’ and focused on my loss of comfort. All of this only made me want to do it more. As a woman I was worried about sleeping out in a park and contacted London City Mission about this. The co-ordinator took the time to contact me and reassure me of the safety of the project. We sleep in a small fenced park just behind Webber Street — with security guards on the gates and volunteers doing a waking night to watch over us. At any time we can head back into the warmth of the Webber Street building — 10 minutes slow walk away, but in reality 5 minutes away!

There is food, fellowship and learning — a chance to see the service areas and what is provided, and to meet those who have experienced homelessness. To learn to care more deeply, to see people, to love and not look away. To learn from those who work alongside those experiencing homelessness and at Webber Street Day Centre.

The worst thing about sleeping out is the broken sleep. You can manage the cold with thermal layers, a good sleeping bag. But it’s the waking up again and again , of always being on alert— with the strangeness of being around others, hearing the sounds of the urban night — the revellers and emergency services, the light pollution, a light night chat, snoring, or of an outbreak of sudden rain! This is why homelessness and addiction go to together — to sleep — and to escape the abuse that some encountering people on the streets inflict.

I know that no-one will steal my stuff — my shoes — or throw away my bedding; that no-one will try to pee on me or set fire to me, or attack me, just because I’m sleeping outside for one night. Horrifically these incidents are all too common and so heartless. A lack of seeing.

I’ve been rained on once — we slept under rigged up tarpaulin over some plastic chairs. This year was noticeably damp, cold and icy — I really struggled with the cold and couldn’t wait to crawl back inside. Mostly I’ve managed to sleep, though in a broken way — I know to set aside the next day for an early night, to recover. And in reality, I’d be looking for a warmer place, a doorway or somewhere with a heat vent.

We are well-looked after; volunteers add cardboard over us to keep us warm, tarpaulin keeps the rain off; we have a hot meal on the evening of the sleepout — and a breakfast in the early morning. I see our privilege. As a woman I feel the vulnerability when I sleepout as well as the battle to keep clean and dry — and think about the struggle to get the necessary things of life. Not just clean, dry clothes, but sanitary products or a shower, of trying to keep dry and carrying your entire life with you.

I’m not sure why those experiencing homelessness have so grabbed my attention. But, with others on the Big Winter Sleepout, I want people to know that they matter, that they are spiritual beings too — created for love, purpose, kindness, by God — for relationship with God and his people, the church. That they are people still (not objects cluttering up the pavement who should be removed or criminals) and that I and others care. And we see. In giving, I want people to join with me in this — and I celebrate their generousity.

Sponsor 2024’s Big Winter Sleepout here: https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/big-winter-sleepout-2024

And me, here! https://www.justgiving.com/page/susan-tailby-1707750400381?utm_medium=fundraising&utm_content=page%2Fsusan-tailby-1707750400381&utm_source=copyLink&utm_campaign=pfp-share

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Cultures: Arts Reviews and Views by Susan Tailby

By Susan Tailby. Appreciator of arts and culture; things I've seen and enjoyed and you might too! Reviews all my own opinion....Theatre, Movies, Dance & Art!