by Caitlyn Hart.  NCPCS Masters Candidate 2016

In winter 2016, I took part in the Dunedin Sleep-out in an attempt to raise awareness for the homeless in our city. It just so happened to be one of the two coldest weekends of the winter so far, and the forecast was for snow and below freezing temperatures throughout the evening. I spent the entire day asking anyone who would listen whether it was too late to pull out, or whether I would be a terrible person if I didn’t show up. The general consensus was that I should ‘flag’ it; it was too cold and I would surely make myself sick.

Fortunately, I was able to pull myself together; if people had no choice but to do this every night, surely I could handle one evening in the cold. We arrived to some generic house music, while cameramen were getting set up for our live cross. It’s fair to say I avoided live television that evening (I was wearing four pairs of pants and three hoodies). As the night progressed we saw multiple creative acts; from acoustic guitar and to solo artists, to comedians and dance crews, and were happy to boogie away in the background as the soup was being heated.

I spent a few hours of my evening helping out at the stall selling merchandise and answering questions as people walked past. The most common comment I heard over the course of the evening was “but we don’t have any homeless in Dunedin” … This is the moment when the problem became clear to me. We need more awareness of the homelessness problem, not only in Dunedin, but the whole of New Zealand.
It was gratitude I felt as I arrived home and jumped back in to my warm, electric blanket heated bed for a few hours of shut eye before work. What hit me the most, as I reflected on the night that had been, was not how much I had learned about the experience of homelessness, but that I had enjoyed my evening… While I’m glad I took part in the experience, I want to stress that homelessness is not fun. In reality, the homeless do not have constant entertainment, an endless supply of hot soup, coffee and tea, warm Kathmandu sleeping bags, enough food and goodies and a friend by their side to make the night enjoyable. In reality, most of the time they are cold, lonely and hungry.

It is estimated that there are around 42,000 people moving between temporary and insecure accommodation such as garages, garden sheds, cars and caravan parks. Please take any chance you have to raise some awareness, even if it is simply educating the person that tells you there are no homeless people in Dunedin, or New Zealand doesn’t have much of a problem.