Why I chose to take part in The Hastings Big Sleep

The Observer's Kerry Stevens, Stephen Wynn-Davies and Maria Hudd at The Big Sleep in Hastings. Photo by Frank Copper.
The Observer's Kerry Stevens, Stephen Wynn-Davies and Maria Hudd at The Big Sleep in Hastings. Photo by Frank Copper.

I was dreading Friday night.

A night on the streets with nothing more than a cardboard box to keep me company as September drew to a close. How would I stay warm? How would I manage any sleep?

After some live music and a bedtime story, I loaded up the layers, made the most of the complimentary soup – everything I could think of to improve my chances of snuggling down for a night of sleep in Hastings’ Stade Open Space alongside 106 other people, who, together, raised more than £16,000 for the Seaview Project.

Despite the layers, the cold air found its way to my skin. Despite the soup, I didn’t feel warm. Despite the bedtime story, I couldn’t drift off.

In preparation for Friday’s sleep out, I had thought all about the coldness and how to prevent it but what I hadn’t considered was the ground – the unforgivably uncomfortable ground.

Cement mixed with small pebbles turned out to be quite the match for the piece of cardboard operating as my mattress.

As I lay there, staring up at the plain black sky, I wondered whether I should just admit defeat and go without any sleep for the night.

But that wasn’t why I put myself through this. For so many, choosing to go without sleep for a night isn’t an option. They can’t return home to reality tomorrow – this is their reality.

When friends asked why I decided to take part in Big Sleep 2018 I referred to the tragic deaths of three rough sleepers in Hastings in the week after Christmas 2017.

The cause of these deaths is unclear but we know they could have been prevented if they had a warm home to return to.

With these deaths at the forefront of our minds, we launched the campaign Hope for the Homeless, in March, with the aim of halting the rise of rough sleeping in the town.

Between autumn 2016 and autumn 2017, there was a 54 per cent increase in the number of people sleeping rough in Hastings, according to the Office for National Statistics. To give that some perspective, the number of rough sleepers on any given night rose from 26 to 40 people in just 12 months. Every one in 2,000 people in Hastings was sleeping rough as of last autumn.

The funds raised by the Big Sleep were donated to Seaview which operates a Rough Sleepers Outreach Service locally with a team going out at 4am several times a week to check on the welfare of rough sleepers, inviting them into Seaview for further support.

Their workers cover about 15 miles over three hours and are often climbing through bushes, looking in caves and even at times scaling cliffs. They carry hot drinks and emergency supplies.

Unfortunately the number of people rough sleeping is still on the rise. Seaview verified a total of 317 different individuals rough sleeping in the town throughout last year.

As the temperatures drop and the nights lengthen, we – whether as politicians, residents or journalists – need to do all we can to support the most vulnerable in our community.

Let’s make sure 40 was a record high.

Related stories:

Three homeless deaths in Hastings since Christmas, according to coroner’s office

Dozens swap beds for boxes in aid of homeless charity

Rough sleeping in Hastings hits record high in 2017

Observer series joins project to record homeless deaths

Campaign sees Observer join the fight against homelessness