Charity boss sleeps rough to gain insight

CHARITY began at homelessness for Morpeth support workers as they saw the real need for their services.

Two members of staff from Barnabas Safe and Sound spent a night on the streets as part of World Homeless Day to highlight the problems of sleeping rough.

Chief Executive Chris Menzies and Housing Support Worker Kerry Hope took part in the initiative last Wednesday, with only a pair of sleeping bags to keep them warm.

Mr Menzies said: “It was a fascinating experience. It really brought home to us that sleeping rough isn’t an accommodation choice, it is just a case of trying to stay safe and warm until the next day and hoping that you would be able to resolve your issues the next day. We had a very disrupted night’s sleep. The weather was as good as you could hope for at this time of year, but it was still cold. We stayed in the bus station until it was closing time because that was the warmest place we could find in Morpeth.

“We did take a couple of sleeping bags, but we didn’t take heavy jackets or camping equipment because we were trying to make it as realistic as possible. We spent the night in Carlisle Park, but at about 4am it was really cold so we moved up towards the war memorial. I must say, we appreciated the park benches.

“The one I slept on was provided by the former Mayor Ken Brown and I really appreciated him for doing that. It was a lot more comfortable than anywhere else we found.”

Last month Barnabas helped five young people from Northumberland who had each spent at least one night sleeping rough. They included people from Morpeth, Blyth and Stakeford. All of them were accommodated at short notice in the Barnabas Safe Space Crash Pad, which was set up by the charity in partnership with Northumberland County Council’s Homelessness Team, before moving on to supported accommodation funded by Northumberland Care Trust.

“We have re-housed several young people this year who have had to sleep out for a night or two and have worked very closely with the council to make sure that young people don’t have to sleep out and there is a route away from that,” said Mr Menzies.

“People think it doesn’t happen here, but it does. Some people we have helped say they don’t want to go to sleep because they are scared so they just walk around all night long.

“We could really get a feeling for that because it is very dark and if you were on your own you would worry for your safety. Housing crisis can happen to anyone. The young and vulnerable are the least prepared for it and are at great risk of financial and sexual exploitation. As the nights get colder, the health risks associated with sleeping rough are more significant.

“This campaign is a great way to raise awareness of how we at Barnabas Safe and Sound are working with partners to solve the problem of youth homelessness.”

The initiative also included a display at Morpeth Town Hall and a Tweetathon to give a live insight into the steps taken by Barnabas staff to end homelessness. A video diary of the sleeping rough experience will be posted on YouTube and the Barnabas website.