ADG took part in ‘Sleep Out 2021’ at Home Park, a rough sleeping experiment in aid of Shekinah who help the homeless in Plymouth

Rough Sleeping Experiment

As the winter evenings draw in and the temperature outside drops to single figures our thoughts should turn to those who have found themselves homeless. It is surely a contradiction that in a civilised society we have so many people seemingly outside of society and without a permanent roof over their heads. Lacking basic dignities, facing violence, the elements, and discrimination, getting free of this rock bottom existence must seem impossible. And this is just the visible part of the issue, as we don’t know exactly how many people are living by ‘sofa-surfing’ with no fixed address and unknown prospects of acquiring one. Crisis believe that this figure is more than 71,000, making it the most common form of homelessness, with the affordability of housing being the main cause.

Recently, some of us at ADG took part in ‘Sleep Out 2021’ at Home Park, Plymouth, a rough sleeping experiment organised by Portcullis Legal in aid of Shekinah who do so much for the homeless community in Plymouth. This is an annual charity event that also provides, in a limited way, an insight into what it is like to sleep rough. I took part in the rough sleeping experiment this year for the first time with my 9-year-old son, the motivator for him was in the form of building our own cardboard shelter. Two very large cardboard boxes, some flooring underlay, plastic sheeting, and two rolls of duct tape later we were looking at a tent-like abode that (just) fitted the two of us. We faired OK, sticking it out till 7.30 am, in the dry and relatively warm, albeit we did this by proxy in our garden.

There are however many great organisations in our region that are working tirelessly to turn the tide, providing life-saving support and nourishment, and developing options for people to break the cycles they find themselves trapped within. Shekinah provides a variety of support measures, prioritising rough sleepers, but also assisting clients with finding accommodation, accessing healthcare, or even a shower and hot meal. I know several people who give their time willingly to help with the soup run and our practice staff are actively involved in helping this cause. One member of the ADG team helped with a Christmas lunch back in 2019 and found the experience extremely humbling. Those that were there needing a warm meal when the weather outside was cold and bleak were thankful and welcoming, and generally very respectful for those helping them during their time of need.

Another organisation, the Amber Foundation, provides hope to 16- to 30-year-old people by providing access to training and further education, assisting them into steady employment through their residential centres. Recently I worked with Hair @ the Academy, helping them to realise their new home at salon premises in Exeter. Mary Pugsley MBE helps young people with difficult backgrounds gain valuable training within the hairdressing industry, seeing many of them move into employment and live better lives.

All the above organisations need funding, but they also rely on help and volunteers. We can all generally find a few hours even if we can’t find several pounds. At ADG we like to give the gift of our time and where helpful, our expertise. Professional time soon adds up, so if we can assist these organisations with free advice, assistance, and support for us this makes a lot of sense and aligns with our core values.

In terms of our clients, we enjoy working with the likes of BCHA (Bournemouth Churches Housing Association) as they are currently helping to tackle the difficult issue of providing housing to a wide spectrum of people with general and specific needs. This can be eye-opening, hard, and highly rewarding in equal parts sometimes.

BCHA is also behind the sleep ‘pods’ at Hamoaze House, Plymouth, consisting of both internal ‘pod bunks’ and external cabins, designed to house single occupants within safe and self-contained ‘micro’ accommodation. The driver for this has been social distancing, but the creation of accommodation that provides a personal space and improved dignity should be driver enough to see this being a standard solution, at least in emergencies. The reaction has been very positive, with security being one of the great benefits over dormitory living. Some of the similar solutions around the UK remind me of glamping pods, and the reality is not far off. The more structural versions are like small site cabins, and while not visibly attractive serve a very valuable purpose.

Back to ‘Sleep Out 2021’ the rough sleeping experiment, and I along with many others, will very likely be doing something very similar next year. The really troubling thing for me, however, is that I can choose whether to do this and you can endure quite a bit when you know it’s on a short-term, finite basis, rather than the status quo.

For more information on Shekinah, please visit – www.shekinah.co.uk

For more information on Amber Foundation, please visit – www.amberweb.org

Dale's experience spans a wide range of project sectors, sizes and stages and has particular interests in environmental design and earth-sheltered construction. His favourite projects reuse and breathe new life into under-loved existing buildings.

dale.beeson@architects-adg.co.uk