On Friday 18th November Kate and I took part in the Wycombe Homeless Connection (https://www.wyhoc.org.uk) big sleep-out in the All Saints graveyard in the centre of High Wycombe. There were three key aims for this event: to raise awareness of homelessness and rough sleeping, to raise money for WHC so that they can better support the homeless in Wycombe and to give us a taste of what it is like to be homeless. To ensure we do get a real taste the organisers seem to be able to pick a cold night, and Friday was no exception – it was well below freezing.
When the WHC night shelter is running I quite often help at the breakfast shift which has enabled me to talk with many of the homeless guests. I’m usually struck how ‘normal’ these folk are; they are not feckless scroungers. They often remind me of myself when in the 1980s I had a period when I was finding it really difficult to pay the mortgage. I had just taken on a large mortgage (but only three times my income), my wife had just stopped working because of our first child and interest rates climbed to 15%! And so it is with our guests; it is often not one thing but the collision of a number of things. Each on their own can be handled, but put together they become almost insurmountable – and this is where WHC comes in.
So, at 8:15pm on Friday night I left home with the cardboard, plastic and sleeping bags in the boot. At 8:45 I started to erect our home for the night. I only used materials that someone could get free or very cheaply. I built two ‘coffin-sized’ structures (rather appropriate for sleeping in a graveyard!), each from two washing machine boxes taped end to end. I wrapped the boxes with very cheap plastic sheeting in an attempt to make them somewhat waterproof. I fabricated two ‘mattresses’ from bubble wrap covered in cardboard; underneath our mattresses I placed a very thin piece of foam rubber. On top of this we placed two cheap sleeping bags.
After a cup of tea in the church we all retired to our cardboard palaces! We closed the ‘front door’ and tried to settle down to a good night’s sleep. Although the cardboard and plastic did insulate us from the worst of the weather it did not isolate us from the noise. The pub opposite had a disco, a very loud disco, that went on to 4:30 in the morning! I finally got off to sleep at about 5, only to be woken up at 5:45 so that we could clear up, have some breakfast and be off site by 7am.
Overall, I think we did meet our objectives. So far £45,000 has been collected, and WHC expect quite a bit more to be handed in – Kate and I have collected about £1,400 in sponsorship – it’s no too late if you want to support us https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/AlanYates.
On Tuesday Rachel Lampard (Methodist VP of Conference) and I met with Steve Baker, the Conservative MP for High Wycombe. He contacted us after we offered to meet with MPs at the Conservative Party conference. He did not have time at the conference so he asked us to come and see him separately. Coincidently, I have met Steve before because he also has served on the breakfast shift at the WHC night shelter. It was great to talk with a politician who tested his calling to be an MP by getting on to his knees to pray! Steve is a committed Christian who regularly attends church in one of the villages close to High Wycombe. Steve was a prominent Brexiteer, so I was rather relieved to hear that he too was dismayed by some of the misleading sound bites used in the campaign (both Remain and Brexit). He did share with us a number of occasions when the press had distorted his message. We talked about homelessness, refugees, poverty and the role of the bible in politics. You’ll notice in the photograph that he is holding his well-used bible. Whether we agree with all the Conservative policies we must thank the Lord that we have such God fearing men and women in politics today. Before we left Rachel and I prayed for Steve and his work, and I ask you to do the same.
Yours in Christ,