Do Sleep Out Events Glamourise Homelessness?
Wee Sleep Out is, in essence, a sleepover. Young people will sleep outside or inside in order to raise awareness and funds for the issue of homelessness. Seems simple, no? In fact, maybe a bit too simple. The idea of a fun sleepover type event can seem like a crass comparison to the harsh realities of sleeping rough, or staying in an emergency shelter, or any of the other experiences that a person who finds themselves homeless encounters on a daily basis.
Wee Sleep Out is in fact just so much more than a sleepover. It’s an opportunity for young people to learn about the complexities of homelessness, about social business and entrepreneurialism. It’s a chance for Alice, Social Bite co-founder, to tell the exciting story of Social Bite. Perhaps most importantly, it’s a chance for Scotland’s under 18’s to understand that they their voice and opinion matters.
Perhaps one of the most valuable aspects of Wee Sleep Out are the workshops delivered by the team across Scotland. Wee Sleep Out provides a platform for the team to travel the length and breadth of Scotland, visiting all sorts of schools, youth groups and even teachers and youth leaders to provide a learning opportunity about homelessness. There are many preconceptions surrounding homelessness and the true ‘facts’ so the more awareness and education that we can provide the better. Homelessness is not just a side-effect of addiction, it can happen to anybody in any walk of life, and it is important that we take the stigma away in order to combat it as effectively as possible.
Another important feature of the workshops is the education about social enterprise. Under 18’s are some of the nation’s most compassionate people and when asked what social issues they care about the Wee Sleep Out team is always met with many impassioned young people telling us they care about the environment, LGBTQ+ issues, racism, refugees, animal welfare, Brexit as well as homelessness. Co-founder Alice is able to empower these young people to realise that they are not helpless in the face of such big issues. Their voices matter and they can tackle these issues using the power of business.
A programme for everyone
Social Bite have, through their sleep out events, been able to raise millions which has gone directly to ending homelessness and to uniting people of all ages and backgrounds under one national cause. The Wee Sleep Out is special because it allows any Under 18 to take part in this movement, with no monetary requirement or pressure. Invisible costs within education can sometimes leave children feeling excluded from getting involved with extra-curricular events and can leave parents feeling pressurised to make sure their children aren’t left out. Our programme negates this issue – while our end goal is to raise funds to help end homelessness, raising awareness and creating social entrepreneurs are elements available to every participant, and there is no minimum-fundraising requirement or registration fees.
How can we avoid glamourising?
It's important to be careful when holding charity fundraisers, to never cross the line of being distasteful or glamourising the issue. From experience at our Sleep Out events for over 18’s and our pilot Wee Sleep Out last year, we've found it to be beneficial to include activities or times throughout the event which are designed to bring the evening back to why your participants are there. For instance, we've always ensured we have people there with lived experience to share their feelings and any experiences they'd like to share. Additionally, our adult events are dry events - no alcohol and partying culture is welcome at our sleep outs. We also ensure the events finish around bedtime (typically 11pm) when we call a "lights out" and it's time for people to really go and experience the night.
This is just one night, in a protected environment, with appropriate gear to see us through and in a setting where people feel safe - not to mention the fact that our participants have their consistent and secure housing to return to the following morning. It's important to recognise the psychological weight that those experiencing homelessness carry, which no sleep out could ever emulate.
So, why sleep out?
So why do we think holding sponsored sleep-outs is a good idea? The answer is simple: The results we've achieved in Scotland. Thanks to large scale sleep outs and fundraising, we have put the issue of homelessness on the political map and catalysed action on a scale we couldn't have dreamt of. We have opened a supportive community village fit for 20 residents to live with access to college courses and employment, and found homes for 830 people who would have otherwise been homeless with our Housing First policy in partnership with the Scottish Government. Ultimately when we look back throughout history nothing worthwhile has ever been achieved without the general public coming together, on mass, and applying political pressure on the powers that be. If we can raise millions of pounds in the process to help the issue we're so passionate about on top of that, well that's pretty remarkable.
We at the Wee Sleep Out team believe that, although not comparable to a night of rough sleeping, Wee Sleep Out provides valuable learning experiences for all young people in Scotland. It allows them to feel heard and feel valued, that they can have a say in the future of their country. It brings young people from the outer reaches of Scotland together where often they might not have the opportunity to take part in the same events as those in the central belt, uniting them for one evening through social media and compassion. It gives young people autonomy to organise their own events, and to really feel a sense of ownership and accomplishment from their sleep out. At its core, Wee Sleep Out will help us eradicate homelessness, forever.