Sleeping out in Durham for youth homelessness

By Anna Couper, Community Fundraising Manager, Depaul UK

As the sun set on Durham Cathedral on a relatively balmy night for mid-October 2017, I prepared to join 140 others who were sleeping out to raise money for Depaul UK and our vital emergency overnight accommodation service Nightstop.

There are few things in life that make us feel truly vulnerable. Sleeping on a stone floor, in the cloisters of a cathedral, with only my sleeping bag for comfort was one of them. And to know that this was only a fraction of the emotional turmoil that a young person might face sleeping on the streets was sobering.

I had access to a toilet, running water, and people looking after my security and wellbeing. For many, it is a much lonelier and scarier experience, and one that does not end when the sun comes up. Instead, the dawn only brings another day of uncertainty and danger. As I tried to shake out my aching muscles and wash away the chill that had settled over me as I tried to sleep, I could not shake off the feeling that for someone else this morning, the future felt empty, hopeless, and broken. That those experiencing homelessness lose far more than their security. It takes away their identity, confidence, and strength to keep going.

Depaul UK wants to change that. Founded on the values exemplified by Saint Vincent de Paul, our charity supports young people facing homelessness in the UK. And like St Vincent 400 years ago, Depaul reaches out to bring light into even the most difficult and complicated situations.

I think of Ashleigh, one of the many young people with whom Depaul works. Following the death of her mother to cancer, Ashleigh, who was aged just six, moved in with her aunt and eventually her grandmother. Sadly, Ashleigh’s grandmother was dependent on alcohol, having never recovered from the tragic loss of her daughter. After a difficult time and many arguments, Ashleigh found herself moving out and sofa-surfing, unable to return home. She was only 16.

“Then I found Depaul Nightstop.” Ashleigh discovered our emergency hosting service. She recalls. “I started to realise how it felt to be a part of a family!”

Now living in her own flat, with continuing support from Depaul, Ashleigh is confident and excited about the future. She adds: “I can honestly say I would not be the lady I am today if it wasn’t for Depaul.” Depaul is committed to not only meeting the urgent needs of vulnerable young people, but helping them discover their potential, and their value.

Sadly, her story could have been very different. It is estimated that in London alone there are 12,000 “hidden homeless”, most of them young people.

In Rome, thousands gathered on 14 October 2017, to hear Pope Francis, as he received the Vincentian family, calling us to adore, welcome and go forward to serve – a call we are committed to follow. With Depaul, we can be the light in the darkness to thousands of young people going to sleep afraid and alone tonight. We can be the answer, the friendly face, the family.

I will sleep out again, not simply because of the challenge (it was amazing and exhausting) but because if I sleep out, and others join me, through donating, volunteering and praying, it means that another young person won’t have to.

Picture: Durham Cathedral, medieval door knocker for people seeking sanctuary