SPENDING one night sleeping in the wind, rain and cold may not seem like a big deal, but it’s enough to make you realise just how tough sleeping rough is.
For six years, Focus Ireland has been running sleep-outs to raise awareness and funds for their charity organisation which works to end homelessness.
Last Friday, along almost 60 others, I went to spend a night on Spike Island. Armed with a dinosaur sleeping bag and a pair of Timberland boots, I arrived confident that the night would fly and it would even be a bit of craic.
Well, there was certainly craic. You can’t bring that many people together and leave them alone on an island without some kind of tomfoolery, but it did little to take from the harsh reality of sleeping out in the wet, cold conditions that Ireland has to cope with on a regular basis.
The night started well, with talks and presentations that opened up our eyes to the type of situations people find themselves in, such as families living in emergency accommodation and individuals sleeping on the streets.
It was sobering stuff, but not as eye-opening as lying down in a sleeping bag on a piece of cardboard and wrapping a black plastic sheet over yourself to keep out the wind and the cold as we bedded down for the night in a large yard.
Even in our staunch numbers, we were disheartened by the task. It was what we all came here to do, but when it came to it, it was tough.
Veteran fundraisers were on hand to offer advice to newbies, showing the knacks to staying relatively warm and dry, but most people took a while to settle. Some chatted and joked, finding solace in the company. More than a few had a drink to help them sleep, but most endured a restless night, wishing for their warm bed back home.
For me, I had arrived on the island tired and had been hoping for a good sleep to see me through a busy weekend, but soon after I hopped into my sleeping bag I realised I had been over-ambitious in my aims.
The first hour was fairly comfortable. The rain held off, it wasn’t too cold and the cardboard beneath me felt soft. However, it wasn’t long before the elements began to spark up with bellowing winds rustling through the yard, snatching people’s plastic and causing a racket.
Soon after the rain started, I checked my belongings were covered over with plastic and tried to sleep through the pitter-patter of droplets settling on the plastic sheet above my face.
It all seemed relatively pleasant until I moved, ever so slightly in my makeshift bed, and puddles of water that had formed on top of me flowed into my sleeping bag, giving me a very wet arse.
Another thing to contend with was the hard ground. After a while, you start to feel the concrete against your bones and it is irritable, if not painful.
I lasted till 5.30am, breakfast was at 6am. I got up, cleaned up my area and wandered off to loiter amongst other sleepless folk who had accepted their inability to rest in these conditions.
Waiting for breakfast, by the toilets, I thought about changing my wet pants, I thought about brushing my teeth, or maybe my hair, but I was too tired and I just wanted to go home.
I had had enough.
It is all very well trying to raise awareness and funds for the issue of homelessness and it is admirable to support charities such as Focus Ireland, but it was only that night that I spent on Spike Island that I realised just how bad the situation really is.
Every night there are people who have no option but to sleep in a doorway, field, or even along Patrick’s Quay, and that night made me realise how close I was to being one of them.
Lying in my sleeping bag, I thought of the fact that I am part of the rental generation, I will probably never get a mortgage or a house of my own and I will always be at the mercy of a landlord. One renovation decision away from eviction and with rising rents, not far off the streets after that.
What would I do if I had to sleep like this every night? How would I cope? Would I turn to drink and drugs to cope with the trauma? - quite probably.
As much as we would like to think homelessness could never happen to us, the scary thing is, it could.
I started thinking about silly things, like what would I do with all my nice things, my fancy clothes and my laptop? My books and my pictures? What would happen my cat?
The answer is they would all be gone, ecause without a fixed abode I think you can’t get a grasp on life. Having a place to call home isn’t just a roof over your head, it’s a place to solace when the world gets too tough and it’s where you bring together all the elements of your personality that make you, you.
I hope I never end up homeless, but to be honest, I can’t be sure I won’t. I hope I never had to sleep rough night after night, worrying about all kinds of things like rats and spiders or being robbed or assaulted.
I hope I never have to neglect my personal hygiene because I’m too tired from a night’s sleep and I hope I never have to brave the elements because I have nowhere else to go.
I hope, very selfishly, these things never happen to me, even though I know they happen to other people, and I hope that in the future, if I do need help, Focus Ireland is there to support me, like they are with other people sleeping rough or facing homelessness.
They say charity begins at home, but from what I can see, the most important charity work helps you keep a home.
To support Focus Ireland log onto https://www.focusireland.ie/donate/