Galvanise Brighton & Hove is a campaign led by the local community that aims to end rough sleeping. Their aim is that by 2020 no-one will need to sleep rough in Brighton or Hove, which concurs with the city’s Rough Sleeping Strategy. In March of this year they will take part in the ‘sleep easy’ event, run by YMCA DownsLink Group. YMCA runs this event nationally. Half the proceeds of the event will go to the Galvanise BH campaign. This event asks members of the public to spend a night outside to raise awareness for the homeless and better empathise with them.
The Galvanise Brighton & Hove (GalvaniseBH) campaign is a sub project inside a larger campaign – the European Campaign to End Street Homelessness, coordinated by World Habitat. This campaign currently operates in 10 European cities. The project has seen over 1,000 volunteers survey rough sleepers in cities across Europe, from Valencia to London.
The campaign has support from various charitable organisations including YMCA DownsLink Group, Brighton YMCA, St. Mungo’s, The Passage, Fulfilling Lives, Brighton and Hove City Council and a variety of other community organisations and local businesses.
In 2017 160 community volunteers in Brighton and Hove spoke to rough sleepers, discussing both their every day lives and their hopes and aspirations. The purpose was to ensure that the voices of homeless people themselves are taken into account in the service redesign. It was also intended to bring together different bodies of society to discuss innovative housing solutions.
At the end of 2017, Galvanise BH had a huge range of volunteers across Brighton and Hove engage in a week of local action that united the local community, those working in homelessness organisations, and street sleepers themselves. The aim of ‘Connections Week’ was to make sure rough sleepers had their stories heard and their personal situations and future aspirations taken into account. This would ensure that the services and support available to the homeless actually reflected their needs.
One of the most successful projects that Galvanise BH is part of, taking place again this March 16th, is ‘sleep easy’, in which participants exchange their beds for a cardboard box and sleeping bag and spend the night outside. This is a charitable fundraiser that raises awareness for homelessness. It also urges those involved gain a more real understanding of what it’s like to be homeless.
Connie Free, a past participant of the ‘sleep easy’, tells us about her experience:
1. Did anything strike you as surprising or unexpected about sleeping rough, when you experienced it first hand?
“We did this in March and it was unbearably cold even then. I knew it would be, but I was still shocked at just how cold the ground was, and how damp it was even on a dry night, making sleeping almost impossible. I hate to think how the temperature would feel during the hardest of the winter months, especially if it was wet.”
2. Did you manage to sleep at all during your night on the street?
“I slept for a total of a couple of hours, but the sleep was broken and very light. I only felt safe enough to shut my eyes because we were in such a large group in a car park in a secure location. Change the company and setting and I would imagine I wouldn’t have slept at all. Sleep is so vital to my own mental health and wellbeing that along with emotions running high from the sleep out, I felt drained the next day and had to spend the day doing lots of self-care – obviously not a luxury homeless people have.”
3. Do you feel this experience gave you a new perspective on the life of homeless people?
“I haven’t ever been one to entertain the rhetoric of ‘if they can afford to drink/smoke/take drugs’ then they should save their money and get rehoused rather than causing trouble. There are many complex factors involved with being homeless and when I woke after my short bouts of sleep, numb from the cold, the first thing I wanted was a cigarette. A distraction, some kind of relief – and this was just for one night. Imagine knowing you don’t have a home to go to. That’s an extremely scary, daunting thought and it’s perfectly understandable why people try to get out of their own heads in that situation.”
4. Would you recommend this voluntary project to others?
“Yes, YMCA DownsLink Group is so welcoming, inclusive and encouraging. It built my confidence ten-fold and feeling part of the community and making a change is a great buzz.”
5. There is so much homelessness in Brighton it’s perhaps lost its shock-factor, how do you think we might create a fresh awareness of the problem?
“We’ve heard the statistics, we see people on the street every day. If we could bring both street homeless and sofa surfers together in an open, public space in Brighton and Hove for a few days camped somewhere – I think it might hit home with people how large the problem is. It can happen to anyone.
“We could feature stories and displays around the camp about who the homeless are. They lack identity when they just become a number and are reduced to another ‘homeless person’. Ask them about their experiences – they need to be as involved as anyone else, as they are often silenced by the rest of society thinking we know the answer. Give them back the power and work collaboratively with anyone who wants to engage.”