• clareforestier

I Slept Rough This Winter

This winter I slept rough on the streets of Bristol. 

I did it by choice, not circumstance, as part of Bristol’s annual SleepOut for the homeless, to raise money and awareness for the charity One25.

They are the most marginalised and at risk women in Bristol.

One25 helps Bristol’s most vulnerable women, those trapped in street sex work, addicted to drugs or alcohol. 80 per cent of them are homeless.

I slept on the streets that night and indeed I volunteer regularly for One25 because as a feminist I believe there’s no point in fighting for equality if we’re not helping the most vulnerable women.

There are currently around 130 women working as street sex workers in our city. They are the most marginalised and at risk women in Bristol. 12 times more likely to be murdered than other women, they have all experienced domestic or sexual violence and many suffer as a result of childhood trauma.

The life-controlling cycle of selling sex to buy and take drugs (for themselves and often for a coercive partner) stops the women taking care of their basic needs. They are acutely malnourished and many are so ill that they should be hospitalised.

When I slept for one night on the streets of Bristol, it was cold and it rained and it was sooooooo noisy. The traffic rushing past Pip & Jay church where we camped, and the rowdy partygoers made sure of that. But there was hot tea and chocolate biscuits on tap and I kept dry and warm thanks to the loan of some smart Gore-Tex kit.

And I was safe and protected, as the St John’s Ambulance staff walked around our sleeping area all night. No one robbed or beat me.

“One25 saved my life,” she said.

And when I woke up in the morning I didn’t dread a long homeless day ahead with nowhere to go and nothing to do. I had a cup of tea with the sweet lady who had been sleeping next to me all night. She told me about her new baby and her impending marriage. I offered her a lift home. And then my husband turned up to wrap up my kit and drive us both to hot showers and clean warm beds.

One25 works with women in several ways. It runs an outreach van service, staffed by volunteers, 5 nights a week providing food, first aid, clothing, condoms, and safety alarms to the women. Its afternoon drop-in centre provides practical and emotional support: a nutritious lunch, cooked and served by volunteers, alongside expert advice and care from specialist caseworkers.

It’s thanks to the love and support of One25 that 53 women broke free from street sex work last year and are on the journey to new lives. 

And that brings me back to the lovely new mum who slept next to me at the SleepOut. As we drove her home she told us why she’d taken part. “One25 saved my life,” she said.

Addicted to drugs since her early teens, it had taken 7 years, three attempts at rehab and the unrelenting love and support of her One25 caseworker to break free. 

She’s why I slept rough.

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