THE BLOG

Why I'm Sleeping Rough This Month

25/10/2016 16:39 | Updated 26 October 2016
Paul Bradbury via Getty Images

Sometime in my early 20s, I spent two weeks over Christmas and the New Year period sleeping rough on the streets of London.

I hadn't fallen on hard times. It was a choice. I did it because I had wanted to highlight the plight of young people less fortunate than myself who, through no fault of their own, had fallen through the few safety nets available and literally had nowhere else to go.

I had wanted to directly experience, document and tell others about the reality of life on the streets, to understand it better, and to be better able to speak up for those who didn't have a choice - or a voice.

It gave me an unexpectedly lucid insight into the literally cold, hard realities. To this day, I still remember how hard it was to stay warm, particularly when it snowed or rained. I still vividly remember the feeling of being (literally) looked down upon and consciously ignored by virtually everyone as they bustled by.

I also remember the drunk office party goers who, after a presumably vigorous night of festivities, decided it would be fun to urinate on me and others as we slept in the shop front we were sharing one night.

And I feel a perverse gratitude to the guy who decided kicking in a homeless person was a legitimate sport. I was already scheduled to be interviewed by Angela Rippon on LBC's Breakfast Show the following morning. The kicking earned me an extra five minutes of live airtime to talk about the issues.

But I also remember seeing humanity at its best. There were the Shelter volunteers and travelling soup vans struggling valiantly to meet demand. Plus a group of workers who roamed the streets after a Christmas 'do' and were busily donating all their party food.

There is one guy in particular who stands out in my memory. He had spotted me as I lay late one night in my sleeping bag in an Oxford Street shop-front. It was raining, and only scattered groups of theatre-goers occasionally filed by.

He came over into the shop-front pretending that his shoe-lace needed extensive re-tying. Eventually he struck up a conversation, asking me gently how I was doing. I think he said his name was Liam.

We chatted for a while, then he gave me all the money in his pocket and his brand new umbrella. And then he disappeared into the night with the rain now pouring down.

It was a simple, unprompted and unassuming act of kindness. I've often thought about the encounter many times in the 25 or so years since. He won't know the impact he had on me, but I've tried to live up to the standard of humanity he set me, and to give back or forward in ways which emulate his example.

Of course, I was able to return to 'normal life' a couple of weeks later. But that option simply doesn't exist for far too many people. Being homeless is hard, lonely, depressing. It is crushing and devoid of hope.

And it perplexes and indeed angers me that, in the 21st century, street homelessness is seen by some people as inevitable and unsolvable (and even the 'fault' of some of those who have fallen on hard times). Surely a country that is the world's 5th largest economy can do better than that.

So that's why later this month I'll be dusting off my sleeping bag and taking part in the 'CEO Sleep-out', an initiative to raise awareness and funds for those still struggling to get back on their feet. It's an initiative supported by dozens of business and charity leaders, and I'm proud to have been invited to be a part of it.

I hope Liam would approve.

Eduardo talks to Lush Radio about the CEO Sleepout, listen here

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