Sleeping Rough In A Car Park

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There’s a certain poignant, sadly ironic element as I stamp on a cardboard box in a car park behind the YMCA building in Southend tonight. (For those not in the know, I’m part of the YMCA Sleep Easy event, sleeping rough for a night to raise money for youth homelessness.)

Six months ago, through a roller coaster of jobs gained and lost and benefit payments on hold and late and missed, and Section 21 notices dangled like a sword of Domacles at my landlords behest, I lay awake at night with my heating off, desperately fearful that I was going to lose my home.

Tonight I sleep outside all night, in a sleeping bag, on top of a cardboard box, with my bag as a makeshift pillow. Tomorrow I’m going back to my flat, still unheated, to treasure the luxury of a battered sofa and a bed I held onto when I sold everything I owned. Some people won’t be.

Dig deep, you can still donate after the event, and help to tackle youth homelessness. Any decent person should be horrified that some young people wake up under bridges, tucked away in doorways of high street shops, and the hidden homeless on sofas, in hostels. In today’s society, a roof is almost a luxury, and it can happen to just about anybody. I went from a £27,000 a year job to almost homeless in six tumultuous months, a whistlestop tour of errors and bad luck crashing my world down around my ears. I’m back on my feet now – but many others aren’t – and as I bed down in a sleeping bag on a box tonight, I hope that some of you will donate.

UPDATE: 2348hrs
I’ve pulled my sleeping bag over my head as I don’t want anyone else here to see me sobbing, as the reality hits and the tears come, as I realise how close to this I came. I’m here tonight, in a sleeping bag on a cardboard box on a damp car park floor, to raise awareness of youth homelessness, and raise money too. But this was almost me. And now, here, cold and pulling my hood around my ears to conserve whatever heat i can on a night literally below freezing, reality hits me like a train. This is England. This is the big fucking society. This is what thousands and thousands of people live through – no, EXIST through, because this is no life. And where are they? In doorways, on high streets, tucked into corners and on sofas and in hostels in layers and sleeping bags, cold, hungry, and homeless.

Nothing puts your life quite into perspective like spending the morning reading about it in the Telegraph, and spending your evening sleeping rough. It’s like the film Sliding Doors – I feel as though I’ve gone back in time six months or so, and this is what could have been.

UPDATE SUNDAY 0411:
I’m awake and it’s -3. The sleeping bag I had pulled over my face has slipped slightly and the jumper I am resting my head on has a layer of frost clinging to the surface. I can’t feel my fingers, my face, or my feet.
Desperately uncomfortable, I toss and turn on a now soggy piece of cardboard, pulling my hat back down over my ears, trying to get back to sleep.
A friend, John, hands me a hot water bottle, that I clutch under my chin. I curl back into a foetal position, pull the sleeping bag over my head, and wish for the morning to come.

0632: I must have drifted off to sleep eventually, as I wake with a start to my colleague calling my name, giving me a heads up that there are cups of tea available indoors. I clamber out of my sleeping bag and literally run across the car park into the YMCA building for the best cup of tea I’ve ever tasted.

UPDATE SUNDAY 0700:
We have a debrief and a short presentation. I’m still wrapped up in two pairs on tights, pyjama bottoms, tracksuit bottoms, several jumpers and a coat, but I’m shaking violently, cold to the core, rubbing my hands together, desperately trying to heat through again.
I’m invited to share my experience on the Sleep Easy Southend video diary, and I break down in tears as I describe how close I came to living on the streets myself, and my reasons for taking part.

UPDATE SUNDAY 0817:
I’m home. I stand in front of my door for a moment, keys in hand, overwhelmed by what I have in this world, and what might have been. I’m back in bed now as I write this, for a nap and to warm myself through. It’s been a long and emotional night.

I’ve done what I can, for now. Please dig deep, not for me, but for those that don’t have a home to go back to this morning.

http://www.justgiving.com/jackmonroesleepeasy

Jack Monroe. Twitter: @MsJackMonroe

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10 thoughts on “Sleeping Rough In A Car Park

  1. Yes But fir the Grace of God as they say. Nobody should be homeless in this day and age even in a recession. Its what you get when you sell off all the social housing and don’t replace it. We need more community and communes, not very sexy in this right wing world we have lived in for the last 30 years

  2. are you being serious about sleeping on the street? if so want me to bring you some food or something? i can leave my car there and let you sleep in that if you like… lol i am really not joking, i live about 15 mins away from there, would offer you a place at mine but, well its complicated, let me know if you need anything

  3. Hope your nights not been too bad, wished your night had been a bit warmer for you but as we both know these people have to lump it regardless of the weather, well done for highlighting the problems these people face,. Pat.

  4. I Heard about you after reading the telegraph article this weekend. One word ‘inspirational’.
    To the future – for you and your boy!

  5. Nearly happened to me, at the age of 55, I was 1 night away from sleeping in my car (I had enough money left for 1 nights B&B) when a friend let me stay in his spare bedroom for 2 weeks until I found rented accommodation.
    The council wouldn’t class me as homeless because they said I was married and had a house where my wife was living, so I could move back there, despite the fact she attacked me with a carving knife and threatened to stick it in my back the first time I went to sleep, I wasn’t pregnant, under 18 or over 60.
    The rented cottage was in a small village, a small ex agricultural workers cottage with no insulation and an open fire, I slept in that room, but better than sleeping rough.

  6. My husband and I went from a combined income of £44,000 a year to being homeless in the blink of an eye thanks to the combination of ill health and (with hindsight) a poor decision. We spent weeks sleeping in our car (thank heavens for motobility or we wouldn’t even have had that!) with the occaisional night in a b&b until the savings ran out so we could catch up on sleep and wash properly. We had enough in savings for a deposit but couldn’t find a landlord who’d take us on without jobs, but we couldn’t find a job because no one wanted us without an address! Eventually the savings ran out and we spent 4 months sleeping on a family members floor (at the ages of 41 and 54) and then another family member let us have their small box room for a few months. Eventually we were lucky enough to get a council flat. It was cold and damp and we had no furniture having sold everything we owned. We started again from scratch at our ages, from teaspoons up!!! A neighbour gave us a bed and we’ve got to a point were we struggle but we made it a home….which is now threatened by the bedroom tax. I count my blessings every day that we never ended up sleeping on the streets but it came close, so very close.

  7. Read about you in the Daily Telegraph, and came over to read your blog. Well done for highlighting life at the bottom of the heap. We live in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, yet the gap between rich and poor is huge, and growing. Those with much also wield the power and influence over the politicians, and the status quo is intensified. If more people like you could get into Parliament in sufficient numbers, a tipping point could be reached when the stranglehold of patronage can be challenged and broken.

  8. Read about you too via the Telegraph (although I’m more of a Guardian reader myself! ;))- I love your ethos on food and your recipes. You are making people aware of how tough poverty is but you are also showing how important it is to be resourceful, creative and to get involved in your community. I’m a Southender myself (although I’ve lived in France for nearly 20 years now) and it makes me feel proud to read about you. Essex and Southend gets a tough/cheesy time in the media – it’s refreshing to read about someone like you!

  9. Hi
    I work at a nightshelter and have the task of providing wholesome and nourishing food for our clients (many of whom are straight off the streets). I do this on a very small budget and am totally dependent on food and money donations and volunteers. Good food is a vital part of peoples recovery from homeless, helping improve, and potentially prevent, the physical and/or mental health issues which can often underlie homelessness. [ Please note at this point the complete absence of any Government policy to guide or fund food provision for homeless people]. I also do cooking classes for our guests whilst they stay with us to help them when they move on.These not only help individuals to feed themselves on a budget (an increasingly small budget with the forthcoming welfare reforms), but also helps builds confidence, community, self esteem etc – and they love coming. Some may have poor social skills, some are hyperactive, some are depressed or suicidal, others have had eating disorders or are trying to come off alcohol or drugs – they have all benefited in a really positive way.
    To get to the main point of this comment: I am putting together a ‘Good nosh for less dosh’ type folder for the guys and girls to take away with them and have been planning weekly meals at different costs £10, £20, £30 per week. To be honest I was really struggling with the £10 per week and and your blog has been very helpful – THANKYOU!

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