‘4 cities. One night. 12,000 people under the stars.’ You would think this was an advert for a fun stargazing trip. In fact, this is the tag line for social bite’s ‘Sleep In the Park’, a charity initiative which aims to eradicate homelessness in Scotland. The initiative invites people from around the country to spend one night ‘sleeping out’, in order to raise money for homelessness. Moreover, the event works as a campaign aimed at local and national government to end homelessness. The night promises celebrity appearances and the chance to mingle with politicians. Raise enough money and you will be awarded a bedtime story by a novelist. And while all for a fantastic cause and an undoubtedly effective fundraising technique, I question whether this is the most considerate way to go about fundraising and petitioning to end homelessness.
Homelessness is a complex social issue which doesn’t just involve sleeping out. There’s the loneliness, the struggle of finding somewhere to sleep, hunger, the isolation from society. These are not things one can understand by sleeping out for one night and it is condescending to homeless people to imply that we can. Now Social Bite state they are not suggesting one can understand what it is like to be homeless from taking part. But I struggle to see how that message isn’t implicit in the Sleep In the Park event.
People lucky enough to have houses are invited to forego that luxury for one night to experience the cold and hardship of sleeping outside. Seemingly to explain to their friends and families how tough and cold that night was and to imagine what it’s like to do that indefinitely. After this, back to their houses they go for a shower and a meal with a new-found sympathy for homeless people and commendation from family and friends for doing something so taxing.
Furthermore, Sleep in the Park takes place in Princes Street Gardens where homeless people are normally kicked out of for taking refuge. Participants are told to bring warm clothing and sleeping bags and there are medical teams on site for any emergencies. All luxuries homeless people are rarely able to access. If anything, the event is more like an over-night concert or camping trip with friends and it should be marketed as such so it does not undermine the struggle of homeless people. Indeed, depending on how much money you raise you can get different levels of luxuries on the night such as ‘inner circle access’ to the performances, an illustration of the event and even the chance to meet Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai, in March.
suggest to you another scenario – in attempts to raise money for drug addiction
charities, we all go on a drug binge for a week to try and see what it’s like
to wean ourselves off. Or in order to raise money for sufferers of polio we
decide to walk in crutches and a limp for a week. To me, anyway, such methods
seem very insensitive. You cannot, as a person of privilege, pretend to give up
that privilege for the experience to understand the struggle an unprivileged
person endures. Your experience is not needed to validate the struggle someone
is going through. To act in such a way is to undermine and condescend victims of
the situation. We should be motivated to end homelessness by virtue of its existence.
I want to stress here that I am not campaigning against people raising awareness and deciding to do something to eradicate homelessness. The initiative raised millions of pounds and brought the issue of homelessness to the minds of many. I do not dispute the good it brings. Nor do I judge anyone who took part because I understand participation was from a place of genuine care and concern about the issue of homelessness which plagues our society. I commend you for even trying to help. I just think we ought to consider the way in which we go about helping. While sleeping out for a night is a tough thing to do, it will not teach you about homelessness. Take time out of your day to speak to a homeless person and understand their daily struggle. It is not necessary to attempt to experience homelessness to raise money for or donate to the cause. And while this may not be your intention when deciding to partake, it is important for both Social Bite and participants to consider the potential implications of the event and participation.