Written by the Chinese Christian Society
A typical comfortable bed may be defined as one comprising of a soft pillow and a freshly washed duvet on top of a bouncy mattress covered by a fitted sheet. While this definition may be one in which most people identify with, there are at least 4,751 people in the autumn of 2017 in England who are unable to identify with this definition due to rough sleeping on the street (BBC, 2018). The rising number of rough sleepers is one of the prevailing social issues in England. Figures have increased 7 years in a row representing a 169% increase since 2010. South East England has the fifth highest percentage increase in rough sleeping with a 17% increase after London with a 18% increase between 2016 and 2017 (Coughlan, 2018).
Rough sleeping not only significantly impacts the sleepers’ physical health but it is also detrimental to their mental health. Rough sleepers are constantly living under fluctuating weather conditions especially in the winter and the threat of violent attacks from local youths. Due to the unprotected environment that they live in, they are 17 times more likely to be victims of violence and crime (Crisis, 2018). Moreover, women, who account for 14% of the rough sleeper population, and children, are even more vulnerable when sleeping in adverse conditions. Hence, many local charities, councils, and start-up organisation are providing emergency shelters and offering advice and support services to help them find accommodation.
Similarly, Medway is also facing this social issue. The Medway Winter Night Shelter (MWNS) is one of the local charities that support rough sleepers in this area. It is facilitated by a group of Medway churches and involves a number of volunteers to offer dinner and shelter for rough sleepers to sleep during harsh winter periods. As part of this local community, the Chinese Christian Society has recognised the importance in supporting this project. Hence, the society connected the International Chinese students with MWNS through volunteering so that they may engage in the local community during their studies at Medway Universities.
After three months of volunteering, society members have gained a better understanding of the rough sleepers and formed a new perspective about them. During the society meetings every fortnight, members shared their evolving perception of rough sleepers through their experience at the shelter. Some shared that initially, they were uncertain of how to interact with the rough sleepers, who are addressed as ‘the guests’, at the shelter due to their different circumstances. Through attending the training session delivered by experienced coordinators, they began to understand the purpose of the shelter and actions to be aware of during interactions with guests. While volunteering, members have realised that by the time the guests have arrived at the shelter, exhausted from the rough environment on the streets, they only desire for a warm and safe place to stay during the night and simply want to enjoy their warm meal and prepare to sleep. The members may not have had first-hand experience to fully understand the difficulties faced by the guests during the day, but they had all sincerely identified with the innate, and yet, a simple desire for something so basic and essential – a safe and warm place to rest their bodies and minds during the vulnerable night. They also understood that the shelter is not only a temporary home for the guests but also a source of hope to break away from the cycle of homelessness. Furthermore, the members have formed a compatible team with other volunteers by the end of the volunteering months. Together, the volunteers rejoiced when guests are successfully housed, and together, they increased their efforts to care for the guests when they still require more assistance.
The society understands that often the international students only temporarily live in the local community for a few years during the course of their studies. Nonetheless, when they are involved in volunteering opportunities, the impacts of their short-term actions may amount to a long-term positive impact for the guests of the local community, so that they may be able to experience the definition of a comfortable bed.
BBC, 2018. Rough sleeping in England rises for seventh year. [Online]
Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-42817123
[Accessed 09 April 2018].
Coughlan, S., 2018. Rough sleeping hits hard on local high streets. [Online]
Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-42781377
[Accessed 9 April 2018].
Crisis, 2018. Rough sleepers and complex needs. [Online]
Available at: https://www.crisis.org.uk/ending-homelessness/rough-sleeping/rough-sleepers-and-complex-needs/
[Accessed 9 April 2018].