RGS pupils sleep rough to raise awareness of hidden homelessness

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Image courtesy YMCA

16 pupils from the RGS, accompanied by several hardy teachers and some charitable friends, spent last night camped out in sub-zero temperatures, in a fight against homelessness.

The 12 hour stint in a cardboard box from 8pm to 8am was part of the YMCA’s Sleep Easy Campaign, an annual event that runs across the country raising awareness of hidden homelessness. The school could have chosen a better time for their event: the Met Office is warning this month is set to be the coldest March in half a century. It was all in a good cause, however – and the RGS has a unique connection to the plight of the homeless.

Simon Lymn, RGS’s facilities manager, was homeless as a young person and still has many links with the third sector. The YMCA contacted Lymn to ask if RGS if they would like to get involved with the campaign and together they organised an event in the school grounds.

Yet for all that Lymn has been on the streets himself, the concept still seemed strange to him. As pupils were getting ready for the night Lymn told JesmondLocal that “it sounds bonkers to me: there’s cardboard everywhere!”

The traditional view of the middle aged down on their luck sleeping rough on the streets is one we are all aware of. But there are other forms of rough sleeping. Hidden homelessness is a growing phenomenon where young people with no temporary address spend months or even years ‘sofa surfing’.

Pupils sleep rough outside RGS. Courtesy Emma Howarth

Pupils sleep rough outside RGS. Courtesy Emma Howarth

The YMCA said of the problem that “while sofa surfers enjoy temporary shelter, there are worries that the practice could put young people in more danger of exploitation, and therefore, could be extremely detrimental to their health and well-being.”

With the tagline ‘’sleep rough so others don’t have to’’ the event aptly coincided with Good Friday.

Megan Shepherd, 18, an RGS sixth former, helped to co-ordinate the school’s event and encouraged her peers to get involved. Preparing her cardboard bed for the night, she told JesmondLocal that “everybody is really optimistic and happy to do it. We’re also hyper-excited!”

Shepherd had checked the weather forecast; the temperature looked set to plummet to -2°C but that luckily she thought no rain was forecast.

Of course, weather forecasts are not infallible. JesmondLocal spoke to Emma Howarth from the YMCA as the first few spots of rain fell from the sky.

“At least they’ll be a bit better off than the ones who how are properly out homeless, I think that’s the thing to remember,” said Howarth, who had given a presentation on homeless to pupils at RGS earlier in the school term. She joined the pupils on their awareness drive.

Despite the weather’s best efforts, spirits were up. Overnight there was singing, an attempt at snow and even a bit of sleep.

In the morning Shepherd told JesmondLocal that the experience was “really fun, everyone was in good spirits” – though she was quick to add she “wouldn’t want to do it every night! I’m quite looking forward to going back to my bed!”

There are approximately 400,000 hidden homeless in the UK and Howarth says this number is shooting up. According to the YMCA, “the very fact that they have somewhere temporary to stay will count against them when going to a local authority for help with re-housing.”

But Howarth says there is hope as organisations like the YMCA make a real difference by helping people to stable housing and income. She said events like these are great for raising awareness and engaging more people with the work.

You can donate to the RGS event here: https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/rgssleepeasy or Emma Howarth’s page here: https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/emmahowarth1

Click here to find a Sleep Easy event near you!

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