Sunday Night, 9.45pm.
I had just finished an assignment (that I should have done days ago), and was getting ready to head home. I was absolutely not looking forward to it because it had just started to rain. But I knew it was just going to get colder as it got later, so out of the central library I headed. By this time it was of course dark, and now pouring with rain. Surprise surprise, I didn’t have my umbrella. I was struggling up Albany Street, in front of the museum lawn, when I saw something that stopped me in my tracks.
As I passed the bus stop, I spotted someone curled up on the bus bench under the shelter, sleeping bag zipped up over their head.
Now in order to appreciate the gravity of this moment, just think about the weather that night. It was dark. The wind was like ice. The maximum temp was around 6°C. The rain was so heavy, when I got home, I was soaked all the way through.
And someone was in a sleeping bag. Under a bus shelter. In those conditions.
Understandably, I couldn’t just keep walking. Now I must preface this by saying that, in the circumstances I (and others older and wiser than me) probably wouldn’t advocate for approaching people in this case.
In saying that, I did say excuse me, hello. etc but they didn’t hear me/ignored me/was asleep. Short of physically tapping them, which is not wise given that I was by myself, in the dark, I reluctantly headed home.
Home. Where I changed out of my wet clothes into dry warm ones. I wrapped myself in a blanket and drank a cup of hot tea in tears. How could I be sitting here, warm and dry? There had to be something else I could do, I just didn’t know what.
So I knew I had to ask those who knew more about these situations than I did. After frantically asking others from the Sleep-out organising team, I rang the only place I could think of: The Night Shelter.
They answered immediately, and after I explained the situation, they said call emergency services, which I did. To my relief, once I talked to these services, they said given the conditions, and the fact that I thought it was unusual to see someone in that area, they would send a unit out to check on them.
I still struggled to sleep that night. Of course this was not a problem I can solve, just do what I can and contact the appropriate people.
I still feel physically ill when I think about that moment. There I was, wandering home, stressed about exams, oblivious to the fact that there are people out there in situations like this.
I am still figuring out what to take away from that moment.
I think first that there are things that can be done, and that the helplessness I felt in that moment was temporary. There are services and people out there equipped to act in these situations.
Second that this is a huge (but somewhat hidden) issue in Dunedin. Part of the reason I (naively) was so shocked was the perceived rarity of something like this. Unfortunately just because we don’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. The Dunedin Night Shelter has provided 1400 bed nights of emergency accommodation since starting in 2007. Thats a huge number of people who are in urgent need.
Third that the Dunedin Sleep Out event was so important. The Night Shelter Trust receives no central government funding and relies heavily on the support and generosity of the local community. All funds for the running of the Shelter come from grants and donations. All meals at the Shelter are provided from food donated by various local organisations and community groups.
This means that any fundraising is crucial.
So there there are ways you can help! You can:
DONATE to the campaign. You can still help fundraise or support a team/individual by donating.
And share the event, to raise awareness about this crucial issue.