IF Group joins Big Issue and Mayor George Ferguson at Bristol Big Sleep Out 2015
IF Group Bristol spent a cold (but dry) night out to raise awareness of homelessness issue alongside The Big Issue at Bristol’s 2105 Big Sleep Out, part of the UK-wide Homelessness Awareness Week. Jason, Aisha, Aaron and Lisa represented IF Group and stood and slept alongside George Ferguson, Mayor of Bristol, parliamentary candidates, organisations, charities and individuals who feel passionately about the need for more funds, resources and understanding of the causes of homelessness. How else would we want to spend our Friday night and share Aisha’s birthday celebrations? Homelessness can contribute to mental health problems through the pain and anxiety that accompany the cold reality of sleeping rough and the fragility of life on the streets.
Suffering with mental health issues and substance misuse is often part of the parcel for people living on the streets. They often don’t even have a rucksack or a sleeping bag. The severe cold and lack of nutrition brings on delirious flashbacks and can feel like one long tripped out endurance test. For those showing solidarity and looking to improve their understanding of just how hard it is to be homeless, we had warms to go back to in the morning. Those living on the street, most of whom are there because they fell through the social support system net, do not have this privilege.
We shared stories with George Ferguson and Dawn Parry (Independent Counsellor for West Bristol) about what life is really like when you live on the streets and have to go from spot to spot each night. Never knowing where or when you are going to get your next bite to eat, catch a quality hour’s sleep or find somewhere to wash.
Jason, one of the IF Group founding members, has lived through homelessness and found himself sleeping on the very same spot at the Bristol Big Sleep Out on Friday that he had once slept on as a homeless person. He told us of the close relationship he developed with the church (Pip and Jay) in Bristol City Centre. The warden of the Church used to bring out the occasional cup of cocoa and check that they were alright.
Homelessness is rarely simply the consequence of financial troubles, misspent youth or temperament issues. Some people might have had a history of rent arrears, others may suffer with mental health disorders that were not diagnosed or treated or they failed to access the support they needed. Homeless people are all to often unfairly branded as anti-social rather than unwell. Too many people become homeless from hostels and institutions which have rules around being substance free – yet they do not have the effective support in place to help them get and stay clean. This is a major problem in Bristol where if one dry house evicts someone, people often have to wait 28 days before they can access an alternative institution, meaning potentially a month of sleeping rough. This is more than likely to exacerbate their substance misuse as they seek comfort from the harsh, often dangerous life on the streets of Bristol.
IF Group Bristol works towards reducing the stigma around homelessness as well as mental health, substance misuse and offending behaviour – which are usually interlinked though which is cause and which is effect will often vary. This is why we supported the Bristol Big Sleep Out. So much misunderstanding and ignorance remains when it comes to issues of homelessness. People living on the streets are still people, they have skills and talents and can contribute positively to society. It is important that we work with local services to ensure that the homeless people of Bristol can be offered the support they need to find shelter as a first step and then a personalised social care plan to help them back into sustainable, independent living and hopefully, a happy and rewarding life.