Sleeping in the street, even if it's only once a month, never gets easy because there's always a different factor that drains your energy the following day as you recuperate. During our 23rd #TodosDurmiendoEnLaCalle (EveryoneSleepingInTheStreet) monthly sleepout, we began with the sand between our toes and red and black markers in our hands as we started to create cardboard signs with positive messages like we do every single month and ended with the longest total lunar eclipse of the century.
The main focus of this event was leisure time, health and networking with the Mediterranean sea as a backdrop, tourists from across the globe and a cloudless sky making it impossible to hide from the sun at 31ºC (87.8ºF) unless you took a dip in the sea.
Our monthly event represents a day in the life of the homeless people in the city we celebrate it. We always face resistance and support as we help give #HomelessEntrepreneurs in our program a voice in society. Fortunately, the only resistance we had to deal with was from the organization called Cinema Lliure a la platja, which holds free movie sessions at the beach during July. We had mentioned their organization because we were going to watch Patti Cake$ from 21h-23h and it was the easiest visible meeting point for those who were going to participate in our 24 hour event. Can you believe that they threatened us with legal action for mentioning their name within our program? Wonder why they got so nervous? I was a bit confused, too, and had to wait until their office manager with a strong German accent crept up behind me while I was creating our sign with the schedule for Day 1. Having spent the last 23 months sleeping in streets around the world, you eventually grow eyes out the back of your head to survive, which is what I ended up using this time too.
The office manager said, "you can't be here. If you don't leave, I'll have to call the police," with a very serious tone. I smiled and said, "I know my rights as a citizens and I also know I'm not breaking the law. What's the real problem? What are you afraid of?" Stereotypes about homeless make many people uncomfortable around them and especially if they get organized. It took a few minutes, but I finally got it out of him. He took a deep breath and exclaimed, "You guys might run in front of the movie screen and start screaming in front of the audience. You could be from the extreme right, PP." I tried my best not to laugh, but let it out because his fear was based on his perception, not the reality. I summarized how #HomelessEntrepreneur provides opportunities to homeless people who want to tell their story and work to be active citizens again and that we are not violent and only focus on integration. The last thing we look for is confrontation. That being said, we do want to open up people's eyes and make them think, which is what happened with this person. They know who we are now and won't be afraid next time if they see #HomelessEntrepreneur's like Guillem, Ramon and Judit participating in an event.
After dealing with a little bit of resistance, we immediately ran into great support: Tijeras Solidarias, an organization that provides free haircuts to homeless. We hope to start collaborating with them in August.
As beach friendly music played in the background and the sun started to set, #HomelessEntrepreneurs, #HE team members and volunteers found a nice place to sit as they spoke and waited for the movie to start.
Nobody was hurt, insulted or annoyed during the movie ;-)
After watching the movie, we laid a cardboard down so those who wanted to fall asleep early like Vincent, a #HE who graduated early this year, could get comfortable, while the rest of the people who were going to sleep out at the beach spoke amongst each other. The newest #HE, Emilio, had some great news to share with the rest of the group: he got a job on the same day he entered our program =) Before we knew it, it was 1 am and the police came by to ask us to move so we didn't get wet as they cleaned the beach. We woke Vincent up, moved all our bedding off the sand and waited for the workers to finish.
One of the homeless people we know didn't hear the officer and got down to his underwear to go out for a swim. As he walked towards the sea to get some midnight exercise, a police officer screamed out "Hey, Captain Underwear, get off the beach until we finish" in between laughs. Resistance also has its light side and can be full of humor.
The beach was finally cleaned and we had to look for a dry place to call home for the night, which wasn't far off. We made two new homeless friends because we set up camp where they've been sleeping for the last 2 months. One guy was from Ghana and the other was from Senegal and they both had crazy stories about how they got to Spain and how they survive. One of them had been married for 10 years, in prison for selling marijuana, and actively looking for a way to get back on his feet again, and the other kept his stories hidden on the inside as he did his best to keep a broken hand of his from touching anything around. They had been robbed the previous night and got into a fight to get a small part of the possessions back. The streets is full of stories to be told and the best ones are normally told when you try to fall asleep as passerbyers stop to saw hi, have a smoke and a good laugh.
My favorite part about sleeping out in the street is waking up early and seeing the sun rise. Beto, a #HomelessEntrepreneur, was one of the last to fall asleep because he was watching episodes of Sponge Bob and laughing until he couldn't keep his eyes open, and was the first one up as he took his camera out to take pictures of the sunrise and all the "ducks." He was corrected and told they are seagulls, but he just laughed and kept calling them ducks.
If you ever sleep in the street with us, you'll find out that the first thing you do is look for a bathroom, if you can find one, and coffee. Vincent and I took a stroll down Passeig de Joan Borbo until we found a small coffee shop. I ordered white coffee and he asked for green tea with honey and lemon. We obviously got a shot of expresso with milk and white coffee... Being as early as it was, mistakes make you laugh more than anything. As he waited for his tea, we spoke about how his life has changed since he graduated. He's currently working as a personal trainer and is looking for a microloan so he can help people change bad habits or addictions they need to overcome. After 3 years of building #HomelessEntrepreneur, people in the program like Vincent feel more like family than just people participating in our program. We conversed for 30 minutes and then walked back to where we slept because it was time to start our first activity: Beach cleanup!
Every time we hold a monthly sleepout, we ask ourselves how we can lead by example and how we can add value to society. The first activity came to mind immediately: Cleaning up the beach! Citizens should respect our environment and #HEs want to lead by actions instead of just words, which is why we gave the city hall workers a happy hand in cleaning up the beach from 8am-9am. As we picked up empty beer cans, torn plastic bags and cigarette butts off the sand, we wondered if people would respect the beach more if they had to pay to use it. Imagine if people were charged per visit depending on the amount of trash left on the beach the day before... Do you think it would be cleaner? Most likely! Just one of many ideas that we come up with during our 24 hour event.
After an hour giving a little bit back to the city of Barcelona as a way of saying thanks for taking care of our beaches, we moved on to the next activity: Swimming!
We couldn't help creating a specific sign to use while we were in the water to invite people to donate to help speed up the process of ending homelessness!
After swimming for an hour, everyone started to do a little beach networking! If you don't know what it is, I'll tell you right now! Sharing our story with a bunch of strangers at the beach =) We spoke with locals as well as with tourists and four guys from Hungary's national water polo team. You never know who you are going to run into in the streets!
Going with the flow
All of the #HomelessEntrepreneurs and the volunteers enjoyed the beach networking activity that they decided to keep doing it until we had lunch. Luckily for everyone, Erika Henao, one of our legal advisors, brought water for the team and 50 bottles for our next activity: Free Water for Tourists who smile for homeless to support those working hard to improve their life and get off the street. You might be wondering why homeless people would give water to people at the beach. It's actually quite simple. We thought about how we could add value to those around us and giving people water was a simple solution.
A volunteer for our health department, Marina from Sao Paolo, Brazil, worked side-by-side with Judit and got more pictures than we can share and told those who participated what #HomelessEntrepreneur was all about while they did it.
It's almost impossible to spend 24 hours in the street without attracting other people you know online that you've never met in person as well as others who are working towards similar goals. One example of meeting someone in person after knowing each other online for over 3 years is Best-selling author, blogger and contributor to Esquire, Lonely Planet and more, Daniel Welsh. Hopefully we'll be able to meet up in 2 weeks and come up with an article for his blog about what #HomelessEntrepreneur is doing to speed up the process of creating work and housing for and with homeless people.
One example of meeting people working on ending homelessness was a group of 4 women who work in a homeless organization in Scotland called Dunedin Canmore. Getting to know how people are ending homelessness around the world gives us a more complete view of how we can innovate and improve our work at #HomelessEntrepreneur.
This activity also lasted longer than expected thanks to such a great response from the public. We soon got closer and closer to 7pm, which meant 24 hours had passed and it was time to clean the area, pack up and get some rest. As a personal note, it normally takes me 24 to 36 hours to recuperate and get back to my senses. It always makes me wonder how people who have been homeless for months and years deal with such high level of stress. It also reminds me of how much I respect each and every #HomelessEntrepreneur in our program giving their best to change their life.
The next monthly sleepout is going to be our 2 year anniversary. Since we started this event, we've helped end homelessness for and with 8 homeless people in our program, and thanks to their effort and the support of our network, we'll be able to do it for the 16 homeless people that are currently in our program!
A special thanks to each and every person who participated in the 23rd #TDELC monthly sleepout! See everyone at the next #TDELC in August!!
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO SPEED UP THE PROCESS OF CREATING JOB & HOUSING OPPORTUNITIES TO END HOMELESSNESS FOR PEOPLE IN OUR PROGRAM?
- Make a donation and support #HomelessEntrepreneurs around the world by providing them with the tools, resources and opportunities they need.
Discover other ways to collaborate within your means.
If you have any questions or suggestions, please contact us and let us know!