Sleep Out

Emma and Jan share insights into the experience of Homelessness as they prepare to raise funds by sleeping rough for a night.

The evening sun was painting every building on the horizon with glorious slabs of gold when we arrived on Byker Bridge to meet Emma and Jan. It’s an odd city space. An intersection between some of the most deprived areas in our region, newly developed student apartments, one of the coolest neighbourhoods in the world, according to Time Out magazine, and Newcastle’s city centre.

The people passing by felt like they were shedding the working day and moving into their evening mindset. The Tanners pub, opposite St Vincent’s, was coming gently to life, while rush hour traffic ground it’s way slowly over the bridge, taking weary people home.

We heard a car horn calling out to us, and Emma Bell, project manager, and Jan Cruikshanks, catering supervisor at Vinnie’s had arrived to have a quick chat with us before they set off for a night of rough sleeping to raise money for St. Vincent’s, and awareness about the realities of being homeless.

They emerged from the car bundled up in coats and grabbing hats. It was going to be a cold night for a sponsored ‘sleep out’, but this team knows the impact that funds raised on the night could make on how much they can support the community through the winter. After a quick catch up on Vinnie’s Cafe (‘104 meals this week!’), I asked Emma what was on the cards for the night ahead;

“We’re going to meet two other teams in town who’ll be doing outreach (distributing toiletries, snacks and treats), Making Winters Warmer and Destiny Streetworx, who do outreach on weekends and evenings. We’ll meet up with them, have a wander round and probably see most of the guys that we see at Vinnie’s through the day. Then we’re going to Hebburn Sports Ground where we’ll be spending the night. It would’ve been nice to spend the night in the city centre but the police will not allow it, so we can’t do that.”

Being ‘moved along’ is a real problem for homeless people who, despite the incredible work of organisations like St Vincent’s, Crisis and Shelter, lack the facilities and support networks to address the root causes of their situation, and often end up feeling further victimised and pushed out onto the edges of society. The worst case scenario is an arrest, or being fined an amount that would be almost impossible to pay, adding criminalisation to an already complicated list of issues that create and perpetuate homelessness.

Nevertheless, Emma and Jan make the best out of everything, and never let an opportunity to highlight the challenges people in our community are facing, go by;

“It doesn’t matter where we are, I think when we’re on the ground we’re going to get a sense of what the lads and lasses out on the street are dealing with everyday, and to be honest, I think we’re lucky, because the weather is not as cold as it could be. You’ll remember a couple of Tuesdays ago the torrential rain, they’re going to have to put up with all of that and freezing temperatures through the winter, so they have tough times ahead, but hopefully we’ll raise awareness and raise some funds to support them tonight”

I asked if there’s been an increase in rough sleeping over the last few years, curious about the impacts of austerity measures and their contribution to the rapid reduction in community services. The homeless population of Newcastle city centre, to me at least, certainly seems to have increased dramatically over the past decade, and we know that Covid has pushed even more people over the poverty line.

“During the lockdowns the council did take most of the people in and find them accommodation, but obviously that accommodation isn’t available now and they are coming back out to the street. We’ve got the hostel, which is for people who have been homeless or are at risk of homelessness, and it’s always full. If there is a bed, the room is turned around very quickly because there’s always someone else waiting to come in it – so we are seeing a lot more people. We have 21 beds and it’s busy all the time.”

And for those who can’t access a hostel, or aren’t, for whatever reason, emotionally ready or able to start the journey towards leaving the streets, they know that they come to Vinnie’s for basics and ongoing support.

“All of our guys and lasses when they come in, we’ll give them foil blankets, sleeping bags, anything they can lie on, often a tent, but obviously things get stolen, so they have to come back and get more. I think we’re just so Lucky that tomorrow we’ll be waking up and going home to our family, to our homes and our own beds.”

By now the light was fading fast, the burnished buildings were concrete once again, and we’d kept Emma and Jan from their night for long enough. We wished them well as they headed off to meet the other teams, Jan getting in a final quip;

“This sleeping bag has been to Kilimanjaro. It’s my step son’s. It’s supposed to be a thermal one but I’ll tell him tomorrow whether it works!”.

We were pleased to hear from Emma the next day that the night had been a cold one but the sleeping bags held out well! If you would like to make a pledge to add to the total raised so far towards keeping Vinnie’s going through winter, just click here to go to their Just giving page.

You can read Emma’s account of the night at on linkedin

If you’re concerned about someone sleeping rough, you can access more information on how to help from the Newcastle City Website at