It's Your Turn

“Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do” – Leonardo Da Vinci

Last week we told a story each day to show our support for Homeless Awareness Week.

We told stories of people who have had their lives transformed from sleeping on concrete to restored homes and families, to those who have yet to have their stories rewritten.

There are so many more stories that have yet to be told, and many more that are still to be rewritten across our world. But this cannot happen unless we do.

We must continue to help those who have been forgotten, through listening to their stories and caring about their pain. We must carry on giving a voice to the ones who have been ignored, through raising awareness and telling their stories.

There is so much that we, as a society can do to make a change to these precious lives. But in order for change to come, our words must flow out into action.

Tonight, we want to share a story of a group of barristers who did just that.

On a very cold Friday night a team of local barristers from the Bar Library in Belfast decided to raise money for The Welcome Organisation. From 8pm to 8am they chose to “sleep rough” on the streets of Belfast in order to experience what it would be like to live without a home for one night.

QC Adele O’Grady and her four colleagues shared a few insights with us on this experience.

Why have you chosen to “sleep rough” tonight? What are you learning about being homeless that perhaps you didn’t know before?

“I suppose the telling point is it is one night for us, and it is a challenge. But what has really hit home for us is that for some people this is every night. I think we’ve just begun to realise the stress and the trouble that people without a roof over their heads have to encounter every single day. Every night they have to worry about the cold, the wet, whether they’ll be safe. It must be such a constant strain on their minds. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to have to worry about those things every single night”

How are you preparing yourself for tonight and the challenges you will face?

“Well we’re very lucky because we’re prepared for the cold and the wet weather with extra layers of clothes, hot drinks, and sleeping bags. As well as that, there is a good community of us here who know each other well, and we know that we are only doing this for a short period of time. I dread to think what it must be like for people sleeping in open doorways with no warm clothes or people they trust around them”

How has this effort been successful so far in raising awareness for the homeless community in Belfast?

“The feedback from the Bar Library, the people that we work with, has been phenomenal. They have reacted overwhelmingly in favour of what we are doing, and donated over £10,000 towards the cause. But it’s one thing raising money, and it’s another thing raising awareness. A lot of people don’t realise how many people are actually homeless on the streets of Belfast, and how you can become homeless very quickly, especially in these difficult financial times. We want to show that anyone can become homeless, and it really is a horrible situation to be in”.

How are you finding this experience so far?

“We just feel very lucky, and really blessed that this is just a few hours for us. It’s hard going of course, but we’re only doing this for one night. There are people doing this every night, of every week, of every month, every year. Unbelievable. I just don’t know how they do it”

Why are you choosing to do this over an easier way to raise money or awareness?

“If we have chosen a homeless charity to support at the Bar Library, then we have to get down and see how it is for people as they are experiencing it. What better way to do it than to physically put yourself in their shoes for a few hours?”

Knowing that not everyone will be prepared to sleep on the street for a night, what other things do you think people could do to raise awareness for people without a home?

“Very simple things. They don’t necessary need to donate. They need to stop and talk to people on the street. Even if they can point people in the right direction of a homeless charity like The Welcome Organisation, that would be a very good start. If you see someone who is homeless lying on the street stop and ask them if they know where their nearest homeless charity is. That would make a monumental difference to so many lives. It doesn’t cost you anything!”

“Wider than that – homeless people are lonely. I often stop and just talk to them, and they always welcome a chat, as much as they welcome food or money. They really value social engagement because they rarely get it. I think that’s heart breaking.”

Adele and her colleagues survived the night, and were able to return home to warm, comfortable beds the next evening.

But there are many people who will not have that luxury. For them, the day-to-day struggle of finding warmth, food, and a safe place to sleep is a consistent nightmare.

It’s our turn to do something about it. It's your turn to take action.

Make the decision to step out your comfort zone and make a difference in someone’s life who desperately needs it.

Start a conversation and listen to their story.

Let’s rewrite homelessness for good.
- Judy Shaw


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