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Sunday, 29 March 2015

Sleeping rough with CEOs, a bishop and a star!

I went to Goodison Park, home of Everton FC on Thursday night. That is something that I have done hundreds of times. But this was different from anything that I have done before.

This was CEO Sleepout UK - Liverpool . About 50 of us from the worlds of business, church and sport gathered to spend one night sleeping rough to raise awareness of and raise funds for homeless people in the Merseyside area. The night began like many other networking events. We registered at the welcome desk and then sheepishly looked around for someone to speak to. Except that the conversation came easily as we all had one thing in common. How were we feeling about the night of cold and discomfort, and what possessed us to sign up for it?

It was an interesting group! There were leaders of major businesses who are influential across the city and there was the CEO of a small Mental Health Charity. There was a Bishop, vicars and other church workers who were putting into action the words of their founder – ‘when I was a stranger you welcomed me.’ And there were those from Everton FC including former player, Gareth Farrelly representing the sport which dominates our City. I should say a special word here for the small group of stalwarts wearing red scarves. Spending a night at Goodison was, for them, a major sacrifice under any circumstances.

So the time came to settle down for the night. I found a cosy spot between two rows of seats in the Park End. I was with my old school mate Bill Addy, now a significant local business figure, and the aforesaid Mr Farrelly. It seemed  a bit surreal to be sleeping next to someone who I had once cheered from these very seats! I had come well prepared with a good sleeping bag and plenty of sensible clothes. It was surprising the cold was barely noticeable. In fact I woke up at about 3.00am and had to take off some layers because I was so hot. But the hard ground meant a stiff back and hips for a couple of days. We were all awake by 5.30 and relieved that the night was done. Experiences were varied. Some slept soundly all night. Some did not sleep for a single minute. I was somewhere in between.

The local church of St Lukes put on bacon butties and I was at home by 7.00.

It was a real experience of what it is like to sleep rough. A lot of money was raised by sponsorship. But one thought has haunted me since Thursday. I put my high tech sleeping bag in my posh car before enjoying my buttie and heading for home comforts. Real homeless people do not have that choice. They live like this, night after night after night. Any event which highlights this can only ever be a start.

This also reinforced my growing obsession with Access to Justice.

Every day there are people whose homes are at risk because benefits are sanctioned, or because they are declared fit for work or because of the bedroom tax. Their right to contest these things has been eroded beyond recognition. There is little point in members of a society having any rights, if they have no access to the means of securing them.

This event has emphasised more than ever, the need to support those most in need.

But also to ensure that the state provides the means to defend them.

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