Spend a night sleeping where I do,
See what I see,
Hear what I hear,
Feel what I feel,
Then maybe you’ll understand,
What life is like for me
To paraphrase a well known saying…
Zishan Fazal, Mohammed Fahim and Mustafa Kachwala of Derby and Leicester Project Touchdown decided to do just this, by spending a night on the streets. They have all been actively involved, in various ways, in providing food, hot meals, clothing and support to the homeless in Derby and Leicester for some months. Whilst they were sympathetic to the problems of the people that they help they felt that they could not truly empathise with what it is actually like for them. On June 15th they decided to spend just one night on the streets of Leicester to learn for themselves.
Although it was near to the longest day, the night felt very long for the three of them. As the time wore on it got much colder. The chill from the concrete bled into their bones, making them stiff and uncomfortable. The slabbed bed gave no ground for their bodies which became pained throughout the night. They tried to ease it by lying on cardboard – but this was a short-term respite. The wind was blowing from every direction, it was difficult to protect themselves, despite the sleeping bags and blankets
Regularly throughout the night they had to get up and walkaround, to ease the stiff joints, soften the pain, and generate a bit of warmth. Sleep was barely possible despite being very tired. Lurking at the back of their minds was the risk of attack; they wanted to feel the anxiety and fear, that the nightly sleepers suffered.
A number of passers-by came to them and offered them drinks and food thinking that they were genuine rough sleepers. They turned it down in favour of those who were suffering every night. They explained to the “good Samaritans” what they were doing and what they were trying to achieve. In addition to getting a glimpse of the trials of street life, they were raising money for Shelterbox.
Most of the people that approached them were positive, but they did get some slight conflict from a fellow rough-sleeper, who had been drinking and gave them abuse. It was the rivalry of territory.
By morning, they were still very tired and felt rough and uncomfortable. They always knew that it would just be for one night, that a comfortable bed, a hot shower and other home comforts were never far away.
The experience was valuable to them. They could see how being permanently condemned to this lifestyle would just be unbearable. It highlighted to them that they need to provide more non-food items on a regular basis. They’ve already secured donations for sleeping bags, towels, blankets, toothpaste etc, and this is likely to continue.
Project Touchdown has an increasing portfolio of local people and organisations who are ready to supply them, whether it be fresh food, drinks, non-perishables, or takeaways. Unlike Doorways and Street Safe, Zishan prefers the model of using established businesses for donations as he believes that it has the potential for being more reliable and consistent.
Occasionally they receive cash support and Zishan is meticulous with keeping receipts and reporting back on how every penny has been used for the intended beneficiaries. He is adamant that there will be no ambiguity over where cash has been used. His method of operating provides him with sustained cover for the medium term which allows any fund-raising that they do to be aimed at other charities that they want to support. In the future they will be running a monthly football tournament, as well as a further sleep out in Derby. They will be inviting more colleagues to join them on this occasion – helping more people to experience the tribulations of sleeping rough.
As the month of fasting continues for Zishan and his colleagues, they are working on an event which will take place on the last Thursday of Ramadan. They plan to secure a venue in Derby where they can invite the homeless to “break the fast” with them later in the evening, have a good meal, a hot drink, a seat in comfort, and a chat with friends and relatives of the Touchdown team. A nice gesture!
The Project has many ideas to do good in the community, and the sleep out was just a simple way to improve their own self-awareness of the problems. To “spend a night sleeping where I do” for just one night was a mere glimpse into the tragedy of these people’s lives, however as the team told me:
“The experience has made us more determined than ever to help those in this situation – as no human deserves to live this way”
How society allows people to fall into this level of misfortune is beyond understanding. Thankfully, there are people like Project Touchdown, and their supporters, who cannot walk past – they stop, and offer a heart-felt, human, helping hand.