GUY Pope wrings his hands, eyes downcast as he remembers his first night on the streets: the biting wind seeping through his clothes, the sleeplessness, his imagination running wild with nightmare scenarios of attack, the dread of being discovered and moved on.

"It was mostly the cold that got me," recalls the 20-year-old. “All I had was a really thick coat and a sleeping bag. I didn’t get any sleep; I was worried someone might come. I was thinking, what if this happens, or if this happens? It made me scared.

“And I was worried that this was my new life now. It was weird after a few days it got easier to deal with while getting harder at the same time.”

He slept rough for five days in total before the council found him shelter with a housing association. Last year he was referred to homelessness charity Threshold Housing Link and moved to one its hostels.

It all started when he was thrown out by his father's partner, a few days before Christmas, he says quietly, chin buried in his neck. He was just 17 years old.

"I sofa surfed at a friend’s for a few days and then I slept outside," he continues. “For me it was a mix of panic, stress and not being sure what to do with myself. I was near Grange Park and I think I slept in the park. I kept to myself, being attacked was my biggest concern.”

By the New Year he had been placed in temporary accommodation and a semblance of normality was restored to his life. He returned to college at the end of half-term where he completed his IT qualification. He immediately lightens up at the mention of his future plans. He is scoping out apprenticeships, he says eagerly.

It is hard to imagine the young man casually dressed in a red T-shirt, grey fedora and animatedly chatting away about his job prospects, huddled on a park bench, shivering in the piercing cold.

And yet beneath his largely laidback facade lie invisible scars.

“Since that time I’ve been diagnosed with depression. I think being kicked out is what started it and sleeping rough increased the effect of it,” he confides.

Before he was turned out, he too was guilty of averting his gaze, or picking up the pace head down at the sight of a homeless person. But crossing the homeless line, and becoming one of the faceless outsiders he once sidestepped was eye-opening.

"It changed my perception of homeless people,” he admits. “Before then I would stay away but after I had that experience I realised it could happen to anyone.”

Which is why Guy is preparing to join scores of fundraisers at Threshold's annual Sleepout at the Immanuel United Reformed Church in Upham Road on Friday, December 2. The aim of the event is simple: to shed light on the plight and vulnerability of the hundreds of shadows sleeping rough in Swindon each night, bundled under a damp duvet or threadbare blankets.

Participants will be invited to spend the night in the church carpark or settle as best they can around the building, curled up in their sleeping bags. They will be able to take welcome breaks from the cold and pop inside the church to warn themselves up and enjoy a tea or coffee.

“Some young lads did it one year and they said they couldn’t imagine how cold it would be and how difficult it was to get to sleep,” says Threshold office coordinator and former outreach worker Cherryl.

“And last year two or three people decided to stay out all night, they didn’t come in to use the facilities or for tea or coffee. They wanted to experience it on a real level. They said they didn’t expect it to be as hard.”

Over the years, Threshold outreach workers have each joined the Sleepout to put themselves in their clients’ shoes. Despite their hands-on experience and the hours spent scouring the streets in the dead of night supporting the most vulnerable, many found the ‘exercise’ overwhelming and in some cases unsettling.

"I think for me it’s the reality of knowing there’s no way you can warm yourself up," admits Cherryl. “It really hit me. And it’s the vulnerability of it all.”

Giving members of the public a glimpse of life on the street, she believes, will go some way to dispel the widespread prejudice and stigma attached to homelessness.

“Some people’s perception of homelessness is the drink and drugs aspect of it,” adds Cherryl. “But doing the Sleepout I realised I would have to be drunk to live on the street, that would take away the fear and that vulnerability. Several guys at the Sleepout have said, ‘You would not want to be sober on the street’. We’re trying to show people that anybody can end up on the street and to be on the street you’ve got to learn how to survive. With the cold, the threats of things being stolen, the prejudice, the general public don’t see that side of it.”

“Experiencing it makes you understand it more, when you see people on the street drunk,” agrees Threshold acting events and fundraising coordinator Cai Larkins.

“You see why they would spend the money you give them on vodka instead of a meal. It’s not justifying their behaviour but it explains it.”

Threshold runs a number of initiatives including a Street Outreach Service, lunch club, emergency hostel at Culvery Court and move-on houses to prepare users to get back into society and live independently.

Last year alone, the outreach team worked with 806 people. 121 were rough sleepers, the rest were vulnerably housed, meaning they lived in temporary or emergency accommodation, and were deemed more likely to lose their home.

Caring for and offering accommodation to people in need sets the charity back more than £1m a year. It receives 90 per cent of its running costs from the council’s Supporting People Grant and accommodation charges. The rest must be raised through events and donation.

As well as a great fundraising opportunity for the charity, the Sleepout allows the team each year to raise awareness of the broad range of people and circumstances homelessness encompasses.

“People don’t understand homelessness comes in different forms,” adds Guy. “Even though I’ve got a place I call home, I’m still classed as homeless now. But what people associate with being homeless is people sleeping on the High Street or begging for money by a shop.”

Like Guy, 19-year-old Sarah (not her real name) does not fit the ‘type’ the word homeless inevitably springs to mind. She has never slept rough and yet when her mother asked her to leave the family home by the time she completed her A levels in summer 2015, she became homeless.

"It was the date of my last exam, my mum said ‘You’ve got to be out by then," says Sarah, who immediately sought Threshold's help and was placed in one of its hostels.

“I knew about Threshold. My brother and two sisters all went through it - my mum kicked them all out for various reasons. I knew it was going to happen. I was messy and I was a bit of a bad teenager.”

While she does not resent her mother and in fact enjoys a much closer relationship with her since she moved into one of Threshold’s projects, she is keen to share her story and highlight the many reasons which can lead a young person to end up destitute - some with nowhere to turn to.

“There's no hard feelings, I love my mum but things happen,” smiles the teenager warmly. “This happened to me, some people lose their home through divorce… and it doesn’t make them bad people. We shouldn’t pigeonhole homeless people. The stereotype is completely unfair. It’s about raising awareness so people understand. I do see a lot of people in the street who are users and that’s what we associate with homeless people with, but you need to remember that it’s hard, when life spirals out of control, to stay grounded.”

The Sleepout starts at 8.30pm on Friday, December 2.

To sign up or for more information about Threshold go to, email or call 01793 524661.