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.
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.
Jack Monroe. Twitter: @MsJackMonroe