By Wuese Kusu-Orkar
On Saturday the 27th June, a group of around thirty people from the local churches in East Grinstead gathered by the war memorial at the top of the East Grinstead high street, bearing tightly rolled sleeping bags and bright faces. We were taking part in a sponsored sleep out to raise money which would go towards the sustainment and future of Crawley Open House, what we collected would go towards supporting people who suffer from the effects of homelessness, making the facilities better for accommodation.
Five of us, including two youth leaders, came as part Glo youth group at Jubilee Community Church. We stood together in the midst of older adults, many of who had been taking time out of the daily lives annually to support the event, amongst our chatty crowd was the Deputy Mayor of East Grinstead, who was attending the beginning of the night in place of the Mayor who was unable to come. Although we were unsure about how the night would unravel, we were curious and expectant; none of us had taken part in the program, which has been running for 25 years before so we were especially tentative as the night officially began. We said prayers, for ‘hope’, ‘the light of Christ’, ‘solidarity’ and ‘change’, all of us in strong belief of the presence of God with us on the fairly busy high street. A member of the team at Open House Crawley spoke to us, and filled us in on the specific details of how the money raised would benefit the charity by making the facilities available better so the level of hospitality they were giving were as good as possible for the people in need of warm showers, other practical needs and ultimately being taken care of.
We closed the introduction with a song titled the ‘Streets of London’ lamenting the daily struggles of homelessness, the loneliness of ‘the old man in the closed down market’ and the ‘girl who walks the streets’, the clear theme being the loneliness the lack of a good quality of life brings. Despite not knowing the song originally, the five of us joined in on the last chorus, asking ‘so how can you tell me that you’re lonely and say for you the sun don’t shine?’… I’ll show the something to make you change your mind’.
We split from the wide circle as the sun began to reside, and naturally were drawn to the packs of cards Jonny and Sam both brought. We busied ourselves with card games for over an hour but the buzz of it wore away because 1) I was losing, badly and 2) The night seemed a little too young, our attention was drifting and was replaced by the opportunity to go to The Market Square just a few steps up the road, and buy food for the night which was arguably not the healthiest variety of snacks. As a pack of teenagers, we were thankful for this prospect and returned to our messy collection sleeping bags carrying chocolate, sweets and drinks. It was a warm summer night -strategically chosen to give us an advantage in this experience but nevertheless I could feel the stares of passersby, people walking across the road to Prezzo and the bars along the street. Cars would slow down to one mile per hour to catch a glance at us, read the sign which read ‘Churches Together East Grinstead’ and make their own judgements. We watched them too, wondering what they were thinking, making jokes about their unashamed interest in us.
Midnight came, and the interest grew in passersby, their desire to know why we were sleeping on the ground directed their feet towards us. One man had an amused expression on his face as he asked Lottie and I- The closest to the pavement – ‘what was this all for?’ he asked. We explained the reasons and he opened his wallet and dropped a few coins into the collecting container. We laughed nervously at explaining ourselves to them but as others came along that night we got used to sharing what we were doing, answering any questions and talking to them.
2am. Loud people on their Saturday night out walk around, we knew a few of them from school. The four of us who were awake were1 still murmuring, eating the still warm brownies generously baked and brought for us in the past hour by a church member. Placed in the centre of our small piece of land on the pavement, an hour later before we fall asleep two men, a curly, ginger – haired man and the other with his hood up cross the road to come over to us. The routine continues and we tell them about Crawley Open House, they commend us, one of them puts some money in the container, and they’re off down the road. Later in the night the pair returns, this time the other hoodie wearing younger man put some money in our container.
“How old are you?” He asks out of interest.
“We’re seventeen,” replies Lottie for the two of us.
“When we were seventeen,” he says, “We were getting tattoos and not doing things like this. Well done.” He and his friend saunter towards the other side of town.
Another man comes like this and returns again, this time bringing a tray of soup, such kind acts from a complete stranger. I finally drift off to sleep regularly waking up to the rain, and regularly struggling to sleep again for the next three hours. At 6am, the Sleep Out crowd disassociates until almost everyone is gone. Glo youth slowly but surely wake up properly, packing away out half eaten chocolates and throwing away the rubbish that’s left over. The ‘sleep out’ banner is taken down and all of us retire to the comfort of our homes, where we can shower and rest before meeting back at church. I felt particularly grateful for the eleven o’clock church service that Sunday morning.