IT IS 1.12AM on Sunday morning and I’m woken by a stabbing pain in my right arm. Shifting awkwardly under the weight of my six layers, three hats and woolly scarf, I realise that my arm has gone dead from the weight of my body pressed against the concrete.
My mattress, two flattened-out cardboard boxes and an old sleeping bag, has meant sleeping on my side is impossible, and as I adjust my body to lie face down, I pull my clothes tightly around me to cover my face. I close my eyes and pray that the weather stays mild and that I can get some sleep.
A deep sleep is never possible, though. Sleeping on the streets means you are vulnerable to almost everything, from the weather to drunken revellers, orin the worst case those who may take advantage.
Thankfully, I was safe and taking part of the annual SASH Big Sleepout in Kirkbymoorside hopingto raise awareness of the problem of youth homelessness.
Over the past financial year, the charity, which works throughout North Yorkshire and East Riding to prevent homelessness in young people from the aged of 16-24, expect to have provided 1,300 nights of emergency accommodation with their Nightstop service.
As the sleepout began at 10pm, about 24 of us set up our “beds” for the night – the Scouts in the churchyard, and about six of us choosing a spot in the town’s high street.
My spot was opposite the Kirkby News. The metal bench was my first choice, but with arm rests in between I settled for the concrete next to it. As I flattened out the cardboard for my mattress, I kept one box intact to lay my head inside – a tip I picked up from this year’s organiser, Lisa Somerville, who has taken part in the Kirkbymoorside Sleepout for the past six years.
“I love the experience, but I wouldn’t want to do it every night. It upsets me because there are people who are already doing it,” she tells me.
While I’m talking to her, a man stuffs £40 into the SASH collection tin she is holding and it's clear that the whole community is behind the event, with the Co-op donating hot drinkstea, coffee and hot chocolate, and Jane Thomas offering the Summit Bakery and Coffee Shop as the breakfast venue the following morning.
But for people who are really living on the streets, I get the feeling that they might not get the same warm welcome that we did.
“They’re scared. They don’t know whether someone is going to give them a kick or leave them alone,” Rhys Thomas taking part in the Sleepout tells me. “They are knackered, hungry, cold and scared.”
When he asks me the following morning if I felt vulnerable during the night I’m surprised to say that I didn’t. But that’s because I knew I was safe and could see friendly faces sleeping no more than 10metres away from me. Had I been alone in a city though I would not have felt so safe. The experience brought it home as to just how vulnerable these young people are and how much they need the help of SASH.
"But iIt is important to remember why we are doing this, and that’s to raise awareness of the problem,We are not doing this to recreate being homeless,” SASH community coordinator Sarah Ware tells me.
“But it is important to remember why we are doing it and that’s to raise awareness of the problem.”
The next SASH Big Sleepout is on Saturday in Northallerton. For more information, to sign up or to donate to those taking part in the Big Sleepout visit www.sash-uk.org.uk