Last weekend, many people joined together in an amazing effort to raise money for the homeless through ‘Sleep Out’ events across the UK, which emulate the experience of sleeping rough. It is a way of people gaining an understanding of what it means to sleep out in the cold whilst being sponsored to help homeless charities at the same time.

The YMCA Black Country hosts its annual ‘Sleep Easy’ even in March and there is great support and participation from the local community including the local Diocese, the Scouts, the Guides and St John’s Ambulance. While volunteers come out and join us to sleep out in the cold, youth leaders also stimulated their own mini-experience for young people during their evening sessions – something which I believe is important for us all to try.

The young people were instructed that they would be without their phones and access to social media was banned, they were asked to wear thing clothing to appreciate how cold it can be for rough sleepers. They were tasked with building cardboard shelters in teams that they would then have to last them an hour whilst they played games in the local park. Just because they were unable to participate in the main event, this experience of being out in the cold and understanding the cruel environment for homeless people helped them understand the need to help homeless people, as well as initiate conversations on why or how people find themselves on the streets.

While this may be too tricky to organise for some youth groups, here are three other ideas that you could try to start the conversation:

  • ‘Sleep Easy Sofa Surfers’ is an activity the YMCA encourages children under 12 to get involved with, coinciding with the ‘Sleep Easy’ event. All they have to do is give up their warm, comfortable bed for the night and instead get sponsored by friends, family, teachers – anyone – to spend the night on the sofa. The idea is that this will raise money and awaness about homelessness, while giving children an insight into the lives of vulnerable people.
  • Youth groups can get involved with local homelessness charities and shelters. It may be as easy as asking what your local shelter is in need of and make donations. And this doesn’t have to be money; clothes, coats, jumpers, food and sleeping bags are all great items to start with.
  • Many charitable organisations out there put on activities to educate young people on homelessness. The St Johns Ambulance has a mini-experience as part of a seven week programme, with guest speakers and activities. The YMCA visits local schools about youth homelessness. Reach out – don’t be afraid to get the right people in to visit your youth group to talk these things through.