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Why Framework's Big Sleep Out is So Important for Nottingham's Homeless Community

15 November 19 interview: Emily Bicknelle

Framework's annual Big Sleep Out takes place on Saturday 23 November at the City Ground, and there's still time for you to sign up to participate. We spoke to the charity's Claire Windebank to find out how the money raised benefits their service and the hundreds of local users... 

My first time doing the Big Sleep Out was back in 1992, in the Old Market Square. I was working in homelessness at the time so I had an understanding of it, but what I didn’t anticipate was feeling so exposed by sleeping in a public place. I understand why rough sleepers find places outside of the city centre that are more secluded – it felt weird being that exposed without shelter, and having the public just walk past. It makes you feel really vulnerable. 

Young people will try their very hardest not to rough sleep because they stereotype it as an “older” persons thing, or something done as a result of substance use issues. They’re quite resourceful in trying everything else before rough sleeping, but occasionally they don’t have a choice. I’m responsible for young people’s services at the moment so they’re of a particular interest to me. The number of young people facing homelessness has risen, and that is a direct result of welfare reform and limited housing availability. It may be that there’s overcrowding in a house or the family can’t afford to keep them anymore, but even when young people have their own accommodation or come into supported housing, they’re trying to work to survive but they’re on zero-hour contracts. There are delayed payments of Universal Credit across the board, and young people are disproportionately hit by the sanctions. Routes into education, training and employment – all these avenues have a massive impact on people who are struggling with austerity as well. I do think it is a crisis.

Women are also particularly at risk. About 50% of women will cite domestic abuse as a reason for their homelessness, because leaving that abusive relationship means losing their home. Women with a history of offending, mental health issues or previous homelessness are really vulnerable to sexual exploitation on the streets. They’re between a rock and a hard place; either they face sexual assault on the streets, or they turn to no safer a sanctuary in a punter or pimp’s house. Hidden homelessness also comes into play here, because some people stay with friends or family so they don’t appear to be homeless.It is common to see a sofa-surfing arrangement where they’ll stay with a friend until that becomes untenable and then they move onto another. 

I would say that rough sleeping is on the increase for young people, particularly in major cities. I think this is the worst I’ve ever known homelessness in Nottingham. Framework has seen a rise in the number of homeless people accessing our services; for instance, we never used to run a homeless family service, but due to the issues of austerity and welfare reform, and delays in Universal Credit, more families are finding themselves in temporary accommodation. As of the last two years, we now run nineteen rooms for homeless families. Since 2011 there has been an 81% rise in the number of children living in temporary accommodation. It is heartbreaking. 

We are trying to work with the local authority to provide a housing model where people are given a tenancy for life, and staff are going in to support long term rough-sleepers as much as they can, but there’s just not enough resources. Every sector is being squeezed so the support isn’t always there in terms of social care, the NHS and the Police. It has a knock-on effect for everybody, and because we’re the ‘safety net’ at the bottom, we tend to scoop up those who are most in need. We provide a lot of services in Framework; health services, housing support and care, and employment.

This will be my third time at the Big Sleep Out. It has certainly changed since my first time – although it was enough to make an impact, it wasn’t the kind of numbers we get now. Last year we had a big increase in the number of participants, and raised a record amount of £40,000 was raised. That amount of money ensures that we’re targeting the right resources in the right area. 

One thing I love about my job is the people I work with. I enjoy meeting the service users and hearing their stories. They’re really resilient and quite creative a lot of the time – they don’t just fulfill the public perception of being feckless. In actual fact, they’re hard working people, and have a really good insight into their own needs and issues. They just need a bit of support, and I really like it when we get great outcomes and stories of people moving on positively. For some service users, it might be that we take satisfaction from the fact that we have housed them for a month, and that might be the longest time they’ve ever been in accommodation, off the streets. You just have to work on building a relationship with them. 

If you are considering participating in the Big Sleep Out, come along and have some fun. You will experience a night of rough sleeping, but we’ll make sure that you’re safe and that there’s fun to be had at the event.

Framework website 

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