Friday, 14 October 2011

Sleeping Rough in Aberystwyth

Last Thursday night, I joined a hardy handful to sleep on the streets of Aberystwyth to help raise awareness for World Homelessness Day which was last Monday, October 10th.

The 'Big Aberystwyth Sleep Out' was organised by the local branch of the homelessness charity 'The Wallich' and I had been invited as a County Councillor to spend 12 hours between 8pm last Thursday night and 8am last Friday morning, sleeping outside the Matalan store in town with little more than a sleeping bag and a number of layers of clothing to keep warm.

I've often thought of doing such a thing but the opportunity has never arisen until now. I was therefore pleased to accept and along with some 15 other members of the local community, we did so last week despite the cold and wet weather.

Lib Dem student Ollie Dunckley joined me and we were in good company as in particular we were joined by local Aberystwyth Town Councillor Wendy Morris-Twiddy and Cambrian News journalist James Nicholas. But it was the company of 23 year-old Jamie, who had previously lived on the streets and in hostels before settling down and starting his own business who brought alive to us the real-life context of what this 12 hour shift for us meant for those who have to live with it on a regular basis.

Sleeping Rough in Aberystwyth
We settled down by midnight into our sleeping bags but despite having some shelter, the blustery wintery weather made its presence felt. As the heavy showers came down, the wind often saw it blow the rain over us as we made our best efforts to keep warm and dry under our sleeping bag covers. I personally found it quite difficult to fall asleep. What struck me was the feeling of a lack of security and the vulnerability of being in such a position - even though we were of course fortunate to have a good pack of us all supporting each other in doing the same thing. When I did eventually manage to fall asleep, I did so relatively soundly and awoke at 6.30am with the dawn slowly coming upon us. By 8am we had all departed.

Of course, we were fortunate. We had tea and coffee available to us thanks to the support of local businesses and we also had the nearby Council toilets open all evening for us. We also, as I noted above, had each other. These are luxuries that those sleeping in shop doorways the length and breadth of the land have not got. What we experienced during those 12 hours was the mere tip of the iceberg of how it must be to live on the streets.

But even that small window into this world taught me that it is a harsh, cold and unpleasant life out there. I will certainly never look at a homeless individual living on the streets in the same light again.

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