A team of hardy volunteer fundraisers slept rough for the night in the city to raise funds for the Winter Night Shelter Milton Keynes and shine a spotlight on the growing homelessness problem.
The volunteers braved a low of 4°C and rain, sheltering in an underpass, with some sleeping on flattened cardboard boxes for an authentic experience on Friday, March 23.
Spirits were high, however, and the group were keen to share with passers-by their reasons for doing it.
Phil Jones, who organises the sleepout as an annual event, said: “Just spending one night like this is a valuable reminder to us of the hardships that so many rough sleepers face every day - they don’t have warm homes to go to afterwards.”
The Winter Night Shelter (WNS) accommodated 69 homeless guests during this winter season, individuals who had nowhere to turn during the coldest months. In addition to providing supervised emergency accommodation and meals, the WNS makes welfare staff and volunteers available to provide one-to-one support to enable its guests to access drug and alcohol support services where needed, and to move on to longer-term accommodation and more sustainable living. By the end of March it had enabled 40 individuals to move on to longer term accommodation and successfully assisted eight people to find employment.
Volunteers are fundraising to help support an expansion of the WNS provision, as to meet the growing need they have recently doubled the number of overnight venues they use and plan to open for overnight accommodation one month earlier for next season and remain open two weeks later.
Belinda Maidment, who works as a volunteer at one of the WNS’s overnight venues and was at the sleepout on Friday, said: “This is an amazing charity. I am one of over 750 volunteers, with only a small team of welfare officers working part-time helping the guests out behind the scenes. So donations are huge to them. This is my first year of helping out with the Winter Night Shelter, it has been a real eye opener and it’s something I would do every year, the people are amazing. This is the reason why I want to raise as much money as possible for the charity.”
Fellow volunteer Sheralyn Whatley, who is a regular volunteer at the WNS reception café at The Old Bus Station added: “I became more and more aware of the homeless situation, changing work connections at CMK station and seeing tents or people in sleeping bags everywhere. Over the last year it has got worse. Hearing the stories, from those willing to share, has been an eye opener and at times very emotional and heartbreaking.
“We all take so much for granted. I have met some pretty amazing characters who I truly will never forget. My wish for them all is that they find a job, a home, stability and happiness.”
To support the efforts to make this the most successful sleepout for the WNS to date, please donate at https://www.justgiving.com/wnsmk or visit www.winternightsheltermk.com for details of how to support them.