The SleepOut™ Experience
You wake up, covered in frost, feeling every bone in your body ache with cold against the unforgiving solid ground beneath you. You are freezing, unable to feel your feet and you are exhausted even before the day has begun. The rising sun that you have yearned for since its disappearance 12 hours before offers none of the relief your imagination had glorified during the hours of its absence.
The weak, watery rays of the winter sunlight are unable to pierce the bitter cold that has sunk through your skin, chilling you to the bone. You are cold. You are drained. You are stiff. You are uncomfortable beyond reasonable expectancy and you are aching in places where the cardboard could not protect you from the frozen ground below. Now you have to get up, wash your face and work the 12 hour shift you are expected to work.
Tonight, you are once again at the mercy of the cruel winter darkness that continues its blustering beating against everything in its path.
The difference between someone who sleeps inside and someone who doesn’t, manifests before the day has even begun.
While we are waking up in a warm bed, turning off the electric blanket and complaining about how it is too cold to go to work or school; people are waking up in the winter darkness, blowing on their hands in an attempt to thaw their fingers while dreading the shooting pain that precedes the vanishing numbness in their extremities.
We take a warm shower, drink a cup of coffee and remember to pull on an extra pair of leggings beneath our jeans and wear another jersey over our long-sleeved shirts before pulling on a down jacket and lacing up our winter boots. While others roll up what’s left to preserve of their cardboard mattress and wash their faces in cold water after municipalities turned fires into a beacon for arrest. The beauty in winter morning frost is only visible from a distance.
The similarities of our days start and end with a job (sometimes) as we are united by our common goal to earn money to support our lifestyles. However, we forget that as we move from an insulated home to a heated car to a temperature controlled building, there are people whose shoes are their tyres and whose movement is their only source of heat. What we forget whilst drawing frozen ponds at school or while discussing how we can use wind for energy to power a company… is that the frozen pond is cold, that the wind stings your cheeks and fingers and renders simple clothing useless.
What we forget while pausing to hold our mugs when the doors of the building expose a gust of wind or complaining that the car takes too long to heat up, is that the promise of warmth is not nationally received. We complain about the geyser not allowing us an instant warm bath, we complain that the window was left open and the soup needs an hour to heat up; forgetting that there are people who dream of the luxury of a geyser, people who are awed by the ability of a house to provide refuge from the winter air and people who are desperate for the warmth and nourishment a cup of soup would provide. We forget that loving winter is a luxury.
A SleepOut™ will never give us the experience of being homeless.
A SleepOut™ will never make us understand what it entails to call the streets “home”.
A SleepOut™ will not remove the layers of privilege that grant us the luxury of distanced involvement.
However, when you wake up, aching from the cold, covered in a layer of frost, winter suddenly holds a greater value than “pretty”. If you wake up feeling the cold seeping through the cardboard, you will think before labeling the people sleeping in the sun ‘lazy’. If you spend a night imploring the sun’s fingers of light to break the dense darkness of the biting cold, you will never again take your blessings for granted.
The SleepOut Movement™ creates an empathy which allows human beings to be recognized by their own species.
An empathy that creates a connection between the person in the heated car and the person on the frigid pavement.
Attending a SleepOut™ Event creates a shared experience that provides a platform for conversation and a chance for a better future.
The SleepOut Movement™ paves the way towards a South Africa where people live not as them but as us, towards a world that works for everyone.