Sleeping in the Park in aid of Homeless People

Last Saturday night I was privileged to spend the night sleeping outside in the frost in central Edinburgh.

Sleeping under the stars was on my bucket list for this year but I must admit I’d envisaged a lovely campfire, somewhere quiet and remote with my husband.

Instead, another opportunity presented itself – Sleep in the Park organised by a local social enterprise called Social Bite. They are a social enterprise that runs a chain of sandwich shops and are on a mission to eradicate Homelessness in Scotland and organised a fundraising event inviting 8,000 people to sleep in the gardens in the shadows of Edinburgh Castle. And so I found myself sleeping out in an orange biffy bag as temperatures plummeted to -6C (21F).

Since my time in Rwanda, I’ve been drawn to help people who find themselves homeless because of war, genocide and natural disasters. As I’m no longer involved in that project I’ve felt rudderless for a while, unsure which cause(s) to support. I’ve been torn between helping people locally or to get involved helping refugees somewhere else in the world. It’s easy enough to make financial donations to causes and crises as they arise but volunteering, raising funds and participating in humanitarian trips is a much bigger commitment. I know I could do this sporadically but I prefer to connect and be more involved than just one-off support. 

But which cause do you choose when there are so many people needing help? That’s one of the things I discuss in my book Give-to-Profit: How to Grow Your Business by Supporting Charities and Social Causes.

It’s only through looking back at what I feel compelled to do without any hesitation that I realise a common thread – that I frequently take action to help homeless people e.g. making donations to Social Bite, participating in The Rucksack Project and walking along Princes Street handing out chocolates or mince pies to homeless people. Overseas many of those I helped in Rwanda had been homeless.

At the moment my heart is pulling me towards helping those affected by the eruption of Mount Agung in Bali. I had a lovely holiday in Bali in September and was planning to run a Business Impact Retreat there next year. But this has been postponed until the volcano settles down. It breaks my heart that some of the people we’d intended to help before the eruption started (it’s still going on) have been living in emergency centres since we left three months ago. The last time Mount Agung erupted was in 1963 when it erupted for a year so at this stage those affected don’t know if and when they will return home. I’m planning to go back next year to see what I can do to help and in the meantime decided to turn my attention to helping homeless people nearer to home. 

So when a friend mentioned the Sleep in the Park there was no question I would do it. Yes it could have been a hugely unpleasant experience if it had been pouring with rain. But homeless people don’t have the choice of whether to sleep outside or not.

From what I understand most homeless people come from chaotic childhoods or need to flee unsafe homes. That could have been any of us.

As I see homeless people locally and watch refugees around the world fleeing all sorts of conflicts and natural disasters I am full of gratitude that:

  • I had a happy childhood and have been blessed with a wonderful family. We are always there for each other and I can’t imagine what it would be like not to have this love and support.
  • I live in a country that may have unpredictable weather but we’re not affected by natural disasters in the way many other countries are.
  • Our countryside is lush as we have plenty rain and an abundant supply of clean fresh water – too many people in the world still don’t have access to this luxury or regularly experience extreme droughts.
  • I live in a country where it’s been decades since we’ve had to flee our homes. It’s scary to think my parents and grandparents experienced the real threats of war on our soil and how awful that must be.

Eradicating homelessness isn’t as simple as giving homeless people a home. After years of abuse, neglect, living rough and health issues most of these people are traumatised and need to go through a period of healing and rehabilitation to turn their lives around. We need to also tackle the root causes to prevent today’s children ending up on the streets in the future.

Being homeless is something those of us living in nice homes can say we care about and feel compassion for but it’s impossible to really be able to relate to the pain and suffering of those who don’t have this choice unless we’ve experienced this ourselves. 

I only got a tiny glimmer of this when we were awoken by first-aiders at 5.30am on Sunday morning to pack up and go home. I’d been snug enough during the night with all my thermal layers, down jackets, ski trousers, and a four-season sleeping bag. But as soon as I started to emerge from my protective cocoon I could feel the freezing air penetrate through my clothes. As I rolled up my sleeping bag I saw it was coated with a blanket of frost. My fingers and toes started to feel the cold in only a few minutes.

I’d only spent a few hours outside and had the luxury of knowing I could have a hot bath, cup of tea and breakfast when I got home. Lots of questions flooded my mind as I drove home

  • How do homeless people cope without all the clothes, hot drinks and equipment we have to keep us warm?
  • Where do homeless people go to the toilet or get washed?
  • How do they do this day after day with no respite in sight?
  • Where do they sleep to shelter themselves from the rain?
  • How do they keep themselves safe?
  • How do they survive?

I always find it hard to walk past homeless people in the street and like to stop when I can. On Monday I spoke to a guy who was sitting in a sleeping bag outside Waverley Station. We chatted about the Sleep in the Park event and he spoke with great appreciation for Social Bite, saying that’s where he often gets food. I gave him some money and walked away in tears.

One of the things that made Sleep in the Park so special was that so many people, from all walks of life, came together to make a stand for some of the vulnerable people in our communities – individuals, teams from businesses, charities, housing associations, comedians, pop stars, and politicians. We were a group of people with a shared value and willingness experience hardship for one night and to raise funds and awareness about the plight of homeless people. It felt so humbling and unifying to be there and to have meaningful conversations with fellow advocates.

I’m full of gratitude to everyone who helped organise the event and to Social Bite for all the great work they are doing to eradicate homelessness in Scotland. You are helping so many people and gave me a wonderful opportunity to support people I care about. And thanks too to those of you who supported my fundraising efforts. At the time of writing this article, together we’ve raised £665. Thank you! You can find out more here

The next time you see a homeless person on the street, take the time to stop, acknowledge them, speak to them and offer support. People don’t choose a life of extreme hardship unless they’ve experienced something far worse at home or are traumatised by life events.

With thanks,

P.S. My brother Magnus Wake made a short film about the event on behalf of Social Bite that you can watch HERE

Often described as one of the most authentic and inspiring souls you can meet, Alisoun is on a mission to empower business owners and entrepreneurs to grow fulfilling profitable businesses that make a difference in the world.

Alisoun’s keynote talks, training, mentoring, and best-selling books Give-to-Profit: How to Grow Your Business by Supporting Charities and Social Causes and Heartatude: The 9 Principles of Heart-Centered Success have favorably changed the good fortune of thousands of people worldwide. She loves doing humanitarian work, fundraising and living by the beach in Scotland.

Alisoun is also the founder of an online business training academy and has written the following free resources:

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