O Brother Where Art Thou?

So, let's be real: I don't really like the outdoors.  They are stunningly beautiful at times, but generally, being outdoors means being either too hot, too cold, too wet, or too windy.  My husband will tell you there is no faster way to make a grumpy Wendy than to get her feet wet inside her shoes. 

This has become even more apparent to me since moving to England.  Sorry, British folks, but the weather here is not that impressive.  There are no massive tornados, no Category 4 hurricanes, and no terrible heatwaves (FYI - 35 degrees Celsius is Georgia on an average day in April).  The rain, which you talk about constantly, isn't even that bad very often (flooding excluded naturally). 

So what would possess someone who hates being damp, cold and uncomfortable to spent the night outside in winter?!  Well, I am going to sleep rough on December 9th to raise funds for the Routes to Routes Winter Appeal. 

Here is a link to our JustGiving Page.

I walk down Poole High Street almost every day, and I never know what to do for the dozens of people who are homeless.  Do I give them money?  Do I have to worry that they will hurt themselves in some way if I give them money?  Should I pray for them?  Is that even enough?  If I offer the wrong kind of help, will it make their life worse?  So, I usually just walk past and feel pity and sadness and a bit helpless.  I don't have a solution for them.

So, I've told a handful of people that I am doing this Rough Sleeping Challenge, and their instant response is "What? WHY? You don't even like camping!"  Here's why: because I know that if just a few elements of my life were different, it could be me in that situation.  I know because it happened to someone that I love.

When I was growing up, my dad's younger brother seemed so cool.  He had long hair and an original Nintendo Entertainment System that he let me play.  He had a bedroom full of musical instruments and amps.  We would spend hours at my Nana's house playing Duck Hunt and laughing at the terrible villains in Super Mario Bros.  I didn't think it was strange that he lived with his parents in his 30's and inhabited a room so full of stuff that we barely had space to sit on the bed to play video games.  I was little, and I had no idea of all the things he was fighting.

You see, Kevin was in the Air Force.  Until he got a dishonorable discharge.  I also heard something about it being alcohol related.  Then he played bass in a band, and I think he worked as a mechanic for a while.  When I was older and my Nana and Pa went into a nursing home, I don't remember him being around.  My Nana had dementia, and her constant refrain was "Where's Kevin? When is he coming to see me?  Can he take me home?"

But he couldn't take her home, no matter how many times she asked.  Because we didn't know where he was.  Several times in my teenage years, Dad would get a phone call and leave home and be gone for a while.  My parents would whisper about arrest warrants and rehab, so I never really knew what was going on until he was no longer in our lives.  To add insult to injury, Nana was only ever visited by my dad (who regularly drove an hour each way to sit with her), despite constantly asking for her missing son.

It bothered me so much that I finally asked my mom what was going on.  Was he in prison? Had he abandoned his family?  What had happened to him?  Why did we never see him anymore?  This was around the same time that I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, so I think it was fear that kept them from talking more about it.

She told me that he was addicted to alcohol and drugs.  That he had schizophrenia and probably PTSD.  That he was living in a community of homeless people in a city near us.  That they hadn't had contact with him for several months.  There was an active arrest warrant for vandalism or assault or something similar.  If they found him, they would have to turn him over to the sheriff.

We haven't heard from him since then, and it was almost 15 years ago.  I don't know whether he is dead or alive.  A few times a year, I google his name, just hoping that he will magically appear.  I hope that he is warm and safe and happy somewhere, but I honestly doubt it.  If he died, he was buried somewhere unknown and unloved. 

When I see or interact with a homeless person, I wonder: "Who was kind to Kevin?"  Does this man or woman have a brother who is looking for them?  Is there someone out there hoping as I do that people will be kind to them?  Did churches ever give him a sandwich or a cup of coffee?  Did he ever get a kind word from someone?  If he went to hospital, did they treat him with compassion?  Or was it all pain and fear and suffering only relieved by death out in the elements?

So yes, I am sleeping outdoors, in the middle of December. 
1. Because I want to be able to help those people who have families wondering where they are.  And those whose family have given up trying to find them. 
2. Because I know that they are human, and each one of us is a product of our experiences.  Mine have been good for the most part, but if they hadn't, it could easily be me.
3.  Because there are 35,000 people in the UK sleeping rough tonight, and almost 250,000 more who are vulnerable to homelessness.
4. Because of Kevin, who put a human face on a problem that is so easy to walk past.

Please give to our winter appeal, or give locally to a homeless charity this winter. Thank you so much for reading and donating!

Here are some links if you want to find a local charity to you or donate this winter:

In the UK:

Shelter (England and Scotland)
Centrepoint (which focuses on young people ages 16-25)
Crisis (which focus on single people and serve thousands at Christmas - this link shows items you can donate)

In the US:

National Alliance to End Homelessness
The Salvation Army


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