What's it like to sleep rough?

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18 Jan 2013
by Neil Skinner

As the weather gets colder we will do everything in our power to ensure that nobody has to sleep rough. But what does it actually mean to sleep rough and what is it actually like?

Here, in an extract from our latest supporters’ newsletter we bring you a range of thoughts from the people who know. We asked them a range of questions. Here they are and here are their answers.

The expert:

 Ben Taylor, Framework Street Outreach worker

Those who know:

  • Steven, one of the first rough sleepers to be helped by Framework in Skegness, Lincolnshire
  • Lenny, a former soldier living at The Pathways Centre in Lincoln
  • Kerry, a former rough sleeper living at The Sherwood Street Centre, in Mansfield
  • Chammack, a Polish national living at Michael Varnam House, in Nottingham
  • Kroz, who slept rough for more than three years in and around Nottingham

What does the term rough sleeping actually mean?

Ben: “This is a good question. Rough sleeping is when an individual is sleeping, or bedded down outdoors; in a doorway, under a bridge, in bushes, in a derelict building, in a makeshift shelter, on benches, in a bus stop, in a tent, in a sleeping bag or elsewhere. It means they are sleeping in a vulnerable, unsafe environment because they do not have access to suitable indoor accommodation. Rough sleepers have to become very resilient. They have to adapt and learn to cope if they are to survive.”

 What is it like to sleep rough?

Steven: “There are good days and bad days on the streets but you’ve always got to be aware of the dangers and know how to look after yourself. I’ve been spat on, urinated on, kicked and abused by people in the past – mostly drunks on a night out who want to take their frustrations out on people. If you are in your sleeping bag you can’t defend yourself so you get used to just covering yourself with it in case you are attacked. The level of abuse for rough sleepers is terrible.

Lenny: “Last winter it was very cold. It got down to minus ten and minus 12. It was very hard to keep warm and I had no sleeping bag so I often slept in a phone box. Life on the streets is very bad for you and can be very dangerous. You have to learn to look after yourself.”

Chammack: “I was sleeping in a squat, then behind a church on Alfreton Road and, when I wasn’t there, I was sleeping on park benches or just in the street. It was cold, dangerous and terrible and I was crying all the time because of the situation I found myself in.”

Steven: “You also have to do the little things, like keeping dry, looking after your feet and stashing your tent somewhere out of sight in the day so it doesn’t get stolen or vandalized. Above all you have to buddy up with somebody you trust so you can watch each others’ backs, look after each others’ stuff and pool your resources. If you don’t then you can get into trouble very quickly.”

How do people end up sleeping rough?

Ben: “A person can become a rough sleeper for a great number of reasons and no two people are the same. Their rough sleeping can be the result of personal tragedy, a relationship breakdown, anti-social behaviour, a history of offending behaviour; inability to adapt after leaving the care system , the military or prison; fleeing domestic violence and financial crisis. Rough sleeping is always a last resort and often happens when people have no family or friends to fall back on.”

Chammack: “It was the breakdown of my marriage. I was finding things hard at work and was drinking a lot to shut things out. I was arguing with my wife all the time and one day I just walked out...I didn’t know where to go. I stayed with friends for a while but they lost patience with me. I ended up sleeping rough for the first time in April 2011.

Dominic, a well-known fixture on the streets of Lincoln, spent much of his youth in the care system and was wholly unprepared for adult life. He was given access to a flat but, without appropriate support, he soon lost his tenancy. He explained: “When I lost my flat I had nowhere else to go so I started sleeping in a camper van – I had no other choice at the time. I went to prison a few times and was back on the streets when I got out because I had nowhere else to go.”

Kroz: “I had been in the Army for seven years and was a corporal in charge of a four man section in Northern Ireland. One day I had them all blown from under me. I was the only one to survive. I had to learn to walk again and afterwards I had a breakdown. I ended up living on the streets and taking drugs.”

Steven was bereft after the death of his mother. “I just walked out one day and walked away from it all. I had nowhere to go so I started roaming around the East Coast. I began sleeping rough, first in make-shift shelters and then in tents. I learned to survive very quickly because life on the streets is very hard.”

Kerry left home and smoked heroin for the first time in the same year. She was just 14. She explained: “I lost my home when I broke up with my boyfriend in 2006. After that I had nowhere else to go so I had to sleep rough. I slept in tents in the woods and in alleyways around town. It can be very frightening – and very cold.”

How can people end up on the streets for so long? Why do they not always seek help?

Ben: Many individuals end up involved in an entrenched rough sleeping lifestyle due to chaotic addiction (drugs and alcohol) and this prevents them from managing accommodation, employment, relationships etc.Individuals can quickly become entrenched in a street lifestyle and at times choose to remove themselves from main stream society and lead an isolated existence on the streets and outdoors.”

Steven: “I suppose I had fallen into a rut that I was very difficult to get out of. I had been living rough for so long that I had just got used to it. I had been in the TA for three years so I knew how to look after myself. After a while you get into a routine and start thinking “this is me” but eventually you have to decide to do something about it. You have to swallow your pride, ask for help and accept that help when it is made available.”

How are Framework helping and what would happen if we weren’t here?

Ben: If Framework was not here there would be many individuals who were not being supported and there would a greater presence of individuals rough sleeping in cities and towns. They would be suffering and at risk due to a lack of engagement from relevant services on a street level who are attempting to help.”

Lenny: “I was found in hospital by Andy from the Street Outreach Team. He said he could help me and I moved into the Pathways Centre soon afterwards. I know if it was not for Framework I would still be on the streets. I know that if I had been on the streets for much longer I probably would have died.”

Steve: “I was approached on the promenade by somebody who said they could help me. If I hadn’t had that meeting I don’t really know where I would be now to be honest. I suppose I could even be dead. I have lost quite a few friends on the streets over the years through illness, drugs and alcohol so I know what can happen.”


Chammack: “I was drinking so much that I really can’t remember anything about my first contact with Framework, but after my treatment at Michael Varnam House I realised that I had a simple choice: I could keep on drinking or I could get my life back. I realised I could not do both and was determined to stop drinking.

Kerry “If it wasn’t for Framework I don’t think I would have  been able to handle it all. I would have been in hospital by now or I would have been dead. Coming here has given me a second chance.”

Dominic: “At my worst I was drinking eight to ten tins of strong lager every day – now I am down to just one a week. I am a qualified chef and would eventually like to go back to work. Framework is helping me to achieve these things. If The Pathways Centre was not here I honestly think I would be back in jail or back committing offences.”

Lenny: “Framework have helped a lot of people and have had a very positive impact. If they were not here then more people would be living on the streets.”

Where do you see your futures?

Steven: “It can be hard to do when you have been on the streets so long but when chances like this come along to better yourself you have to take them. My hope for the future is that I can be self sufficient and live independently again. I’d also like to return to work.”

Dominic: “I’m not getting any younger and I have had enough of life on the streets. This time next year I want to have my own place and maybe find myself a girlfriend. I am certainly not planning to go back on the streets and I have also cut down on the amount I drink.”

Kerry: “A year ago I would never have imagined that I’d be doing this kind of thing [Kerry now orgnanises an art group and plans daytrips for residents]. But I also never imagined myself being stable. I never imagined me controlling my drugs rather than them controlling me, but this place is helping me to do that. In five years’ time I would like to have my own place and I would like to get into counselling or social work but I know I have a long way to go before then.”

Chammack: “I am so much happier now. I am still living at Michael Varnam House but I will soon be moving into my own flat. I am now looking after my children in the day at my wife’s house while we work on things between us. Thanks to Framework I now feel ready to live on my own and ready to go back to work. I am a strong believer in God. Some people think that God alone will get them off the streets but that is not true. I believe that God gave me a chance and that chance for me was Framework.”

If you see a rough sleeper and want to help then call our telephone hotline now. If you want to help us to help those most in need of support then see what you can do to support Framework.

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(1) Comments

  • steven
    22 February 2014, 13:40

    i was brought up in care homes diffrent foster cares abused by all of them i lived on the streets for a long time i even had a job but still did ant want to live in a house the reason i felt safer on the streets but then i finally met the my wife learnt to trust again /and no 60 years on and no justice but i am safe now i do miss the street life and even now i have to sleep with all my windows open so that i can smell the fresh air

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