On Friday 9 November, seven of our students and two members of staff spent a wet and windy night sleeping on the cold hard ground of Notre Dame’s St Joseph’s Court. Why? To raise awareness of the problem of homelessness in the UK. As our lower sixth student, Victoria Byron, said: ‘It was a good experience of learning how the homeless try to cope with being on the streets.’
At 8pm our students and staff gathered in the Trinity building, where Arja and Rowena from St George’s Crypt talked about the services they offer to the homeless. Rowena is a former Notre Dame student, who was keen to return to college and share what she does with current students. Arja explained that St George’s Crypt never refuses access to anyone unless they pose a danger to others. An average of 30 people per night use the Crypt, and it costs £30 to feed, cloth, clean and look after each one.
Each person who benefits from the Crypt will have their own set of circumstances which led to them becoming homeless. Arja gave examples of many success stories, where clients had been supported to conquer their addictions. However, the average life expectancy for a homeless male in Leeds is 48 and for a woman it’s 44.
Sobered by these statistics, our students then tucked into their takeaway pizza, very aware that – apart from those at the Crypt or accessing similar services – homeless people are extremely unlikely to get a hot dinner before being exposed to the elements for the night. At 11pm, staff and students braved the rain to move into St Joseph’s Court, laying out cardboard to sleep on, and wrapping up as best they could inside their sleeping bags. Most of the students were asleep by 11:30, and those who weren’t woken by the cold or the wind slept through until 5:30 when their parents arrived to collect them. All students and staff were very glad to get home to the comfort of their own beds, mindful of their own good fortune.