Blog | Sleeping rough: Merseyside Scouts raise awareness of homelessness
As part of a project to raise awareness of homelessness in Merseyside, Scouts from Liverpool encouraged the city’s young people to spend a night sleeping rough.
What would we do without a home to return to, a space to call our own or a bed to sleep in? According to the latest statistics from Homeless Link, the national membership charity for organisations working directly with homeless people, rough sleeping in the UK has risen by 55% since 2010.
Recognising how huge this issue is, Scouts from 1st Walton on the Hill (WOTH) decided that homelessness and rough sleeping in Merseyside needed addressing. It all started when Grant, one of 1st WOTH's Young Leaders, went on a youth engagement tour and travelled to London to take part in a group discussion about the things young people would like to change in their community. One of the recurring themes was homelessness.
It’s an issue Grant was aware of but not initially knowledgeable about. Upon returning to Liverpool, Scouts from 1st WOTH contacted the staff at the Whitechapel Centre, Liverpool’s leading homeless and housing charity, and the two teams worked together to raise awareness about the problem of rough sleeping in Merseyside.
The Scouts began carrying No Second Night Out cards, which have a number for the public to call and alert the centre if they see anyone sleeping on the streets who looks like they need help.
They also organised workshops for Beavers and Cubs in order to help them understand the issue. And, a number of Scouts spoke to people who had been directly affected by homelessness, to learn how many people are touched by the problem and how easy it is for people to find themselves on the streets.
‘[A service user] was telling us how he became homeless. He got kicked out and then he started drinking. He went to prison at one point and then when he got out he started taking drugs. He kept getting told about the Whitechapel Centre but he never went.’ Grant tells the story of one individual who's life had spiralled out of control, and thanked the Whitechapel Centre for stepping in and helping him to get his life back on track. Poor mental health is often linked to homelessness and rough sleeping so it’s vital that people on the streets have someone to turn to.
The Scouts have learned a lot about homelessness and rough sleeping since the project began. When asked what information surprised them most, Abbie, a Scout, didn’t hesitate to respond: ‘The most shocking thing is that every one of us could be homeless. That’s scary.’
This conscientious Group is also organising a Sleep Out for the young people of Liverpool, set to coincide with World Homelessness Day. Grant tells me about it: ‘It’s £3.50 to take part and you can be sponsored to do it as well if you want. It’s gonna be all to do with surviving on the streets; there’s gonna be one or two serious activities because you sort of need that to keep the meaning there, but we’ll try and keep it as fun and light as possible.’
‘We’ll be building the shelters ourselves, and that’s what we’ll be sleeping in,’ Abbie pipes up. Tonight I get to see first-hand the type of shelters they’ll be sleeping in as the Young Leaders run an evening of fun but informative activities for the younger sections.
‘They’re not that waterproof but they are good for keeping the heat,’ Grant explains as he curls up in his makeshift bed of cardboard and bin bags. This is just one of the activities they have planned for the evening, as well as an energetic game resembling tag which wears everyone out, me included.
The most impressive thing about the evening’s events is that they have all been planned and run by the young people. Grant explains that the Group has only paired up with the centre a handful of times but that their help has been invaluable: ‘When we’ve needed someone to come in and explain something, we’ll ask and the next week they’ll be here to help us out. They’re very keen to speak to us.’
Most of the time the team have worked on the project alone, feeling informed and empowered enough to spread the word and make a change without a larger team. Group Scout Leader Barbara Hughes has given them the freedom to make their own decisions and own the project. This small group of young individuals has been tackling the issue head on with only nine key players: Grant, Emily, Rose, Abbie, Tyler, Jack, Robbie, Mikey and Amber.
They weren’t fazed by the lack of manpower: ‘In a bigger group loads of people would just come up with lots of ideas, but because there’s only a few of us we’ve been able to focus our ideas,’ Grant tells me. Having a smaller team has given them greater responsibility and ownership of the project. They’ve all done so much leading up to the Scout Sleep Out, but what will happen after the event?
‘We’ll make packages with ways to help other Groups educate their Scouts. If each Group does something small then it will be massive. Small acts of kindness lead to great acts of good,’ says Grant.