THE STORY: Paying for accommodation is overrated.
On this occasion I didn’t have one and I remember being too tight to pay 40 EUROS ($70 AUD at the time) for a hostel. I decided to spend the night homeless in the freezing French winter.
After hours of stressing about where I could hide my things I finally locked my big backpack to a fence beside a quiet church building and went for a wander around town. Every dark corner or well covered bush I walked past became a potential bed for that night. It was amazing how much I noticed about how safe, secure and out of peoples way these places would be. This must be a daily reality for those who have no place to call their own.
In my wanderings I came across a genuinely homeless person and sat down next to him to eat some food. I could barely understand a word he said, even with a translation book in my hand. I did understand what it meant when someone throws and beer bottle out the window at you. As if this guys life wasn’t hard enough!
Soon after we parted ways, me trying to explain my backpack is still locked up on a fence, and him trying to force open the glass doors of the ATM room so I could have somewhere warm to sleep! I got back to my bag, jumped the fence and unrolled my sleeping mat, cleverly hidden in the alley beside the church. No sooner had I rolled out my mat, a torch begins shining in my direction. I was hidden by the bricks jutting out from the side of the church. Assuming it must be a police officer, I panicked and gave myself up.
I tried to explain myself in French while quickly packing my bag and walking back toward the gate. As I got closer to the light that was being shone at me I notice, it wasn’t a police officer at all but a little old lady. She must have been about 70, yet didn’t hesitate in confronting this 6 foot 2 stranger with dreadlocks, unlike the man (likely her husband) watching from the 3rd floor window!
The woman is talking to me as I approach the exit but I have no idea what she is saying. So in the same breath I say the two French words I do understand, “Hello” said “Goodbye”, then walk hurriedly past her and back into the night.
There was no way I was paying for accommodation now! It was almost midnight and my flight out was early the next morning. I took a bus to the Airport which shut it’s doors soon after I got there. The night ended with me sharing my sleeping mat with three others who had missed their flight.
THE EVENT: Students arrive after school with their cardboard boxes, sleeping bags and ($10-$20) which is donated to a chosen cause. This money will also cover the cost of dinner; Mashed potatoes, day old bread, and cans of baked beans and spaghetti.
After dinner students walk around the school in search of the best place to sleep (they will actually sleep in a supervised area). Each location is scored on its Safety, Security and Comfort to create further conversation around the campfire. This activity aims to demonstrate some of the difficulty homeless people must face on a regular basis.
We then hold a Derilique’ fashion parade, where each student is given some sticky tape and a garbage bag and must work together with others to create the coolest outfit. Students strut their stuff on the catwalk, while the rest vote on the winner.
The night finishes with everyone sleeping* in or on cardboard boxes.
*There really isn’t that much sleeping that happens. Run this event on a Friday night unless you want to teach grumpy and over-tired students the next day.
- To put students in the shoes of a homeless person.
- To create understanding and empathy.
- To engage in conversation about homelessness and other issues.
- To raise money and awareness for a relevant cause.