HOMELESS charity Threshold held its annual Big SleepOut to raise awareness of homelessness. Our reporter Hedi Mehrez joined the hardy band. He describes his experience…

I was probably the least prepared to face the Big SleepOut in December, having brought with me a cardigan, a coat and a scarf.

The sleepout started at around 11pm when temperatures were around 8 degrees -it could have been much worse.

Threshold provided us with tea, coffee, and a delicious soup, enough for me and the other 139 participants to get through the night.

At around 2am, I could barely feel my hands. I was exhausted but for some reason I did not sleep a wink.

I walked around the Supermarine centre for an hour or so, hoping it would warm me up. Thankfully it did not rain.

By 3am the temperature had dropped to five degrees and I started to think about those who are really struggling on the streets. Sleeping a few hours gives a slight idea of what it is like to live on the streets.

The experience opened my eyes in so many ways, not only because I was ‘sleeping’ outside, but also because I met dedicated people, including volunteers who are helping and supporting those suffering in the freezing cold.

Matty Blades, 48, was homeless for 15 years before asking for help.

He said: “I was homeless for quite sometime and threshold helped me and now I got my own place and that’s why I do Big SleepOut. I lived seven years on the streets and eight years on and off.

“It is a great idea, raising money for the homeless is important. I mean there is not enough support out there at the moment. Threshold saved my life. I moved to one of their properties. I was struggling with addiction to heroine.

“I spoke to Threshold, within days I was in one of their properties, clean and it’s been three years now. So it’s all been good since then.

“My life has been about drugs, I started drugs when I was 11 and it just continued throughout my life.”

At around 5am I decided to go for a coffee, and this was when Threshold’s chief development officer Michael Keenan told me that more than £20,000 had been pledged on the night.

This year saw a record number of children attending the event. I could see them running all night and playing games.

He said: “It is impossible to create at an event like this a real sense of the suffering experienced by individuals who cannot wake up after a night on the streets and return to a home with a warm bed, food in the cupboards and a sense of security that being housed provides.”

In the end, I walked away to a warm house, but with a new perspective on homelessness.