Twenty five teenagers from the Catholic Parish of Our Lady and All Saints, Basildon, slept in the church car park on Friday 7th – Saturday 8th April. They were raising money for Project 58:7 and the winter shelter, which provides hot meals for the homeless throughout the year and a warm, dry place to sleep in winter, as well as youth projects like “Field of Dreams” which gives 100 Basildon children a fortnight of holiday fun each summer. The youngsters – who hope to have raised over £1,500 – made it realistic: they used cardboard or thin roll mats to sleep on, with just sleeping bags and blankets as bedding – and they certainly felt the cold as temperatures dropped to just four degrees, with thick early morning mist adding to the dampness and chill.
Their Parish Priest, Fr Dominic Howarth, who spent the night outside with the young people, said: “They were excellent. There was not a lot of sleeping going on – it was so cold. When we chatted about it with the young people in the morning they said how they particularly noticed the vulnerability – that if they had not been in a group their stuff could have been stolen, or they could have been beaten up, or worse. It was a stark experience of how life is on the streets.”
Earlier in the evening the group celebrated Mass together, and watched A Streetcat named Bob, the 2016 film inspired by the true story of a Big Issue vendor in London. They reflected on the shocking statistic that 12,000 young people of their age are homeless every night in the UK. When Fr Dominic asked them how they would feel if they knew they had to do it again for a second night, or a third night, one of the group said: “that idea fills me with dread. I don’t know if I could do it”. Another said, “It really makes you think about the judgements we make when we see someone who is homeless.”
Fr Dominic commented: “This kind of experience really brings faith alive. Jesus said that we are all brothers and sisters, and whatever we do for the least among us, we do for Jesus. Our young people have lived that tonight, and I don’t think it is an experience that they will ever forget.”
For more information about the parish, please visit www.basildoncatholics.org