Man decides to be homeless for 30 days and his experience will make you cringe

July 10, 2017 3:00 pm Last Updated: July 10, 2017 3:00 pm


James Beavis wasn’t forced to become homeless by financial or other troubles, but he decided to conduct an experiment and live as though he was homeless for 30 days.

He wanted to raise awareness and funds for homeless organizations, as well as gain a deeper understanding of what it was like to be without a home, without basic needs being met, and to learn how homeless people treated each other compared to how others treat the homeless. It was the latter that gave him the greatest insight, and the details might seem disturbing or shocking.

Beavis is a medical student studying to be a doctor. When he put himself in this situation in December of 2016, he spent Christmas homeless in London on purpose. He knew his situation wasn’t permanent, but nobody else did.

You can watch the video included with this article to hear Beavis himself describe the project.

The Motivation

This was not Beavis’ first time he had intentionally made himself homeless. He slept on the streets for a week over Christmas in London four years ago to raise money for charity. This time he wanted to make more of an impact.

“It is not a vanity project,” Beavis wrote, “I believe that this way – sleeping rough, leaving friends and family behind, begging for food to survive – gives me a better perspective on the issue, and could even act as a bridge to others understanding this marginalized community better.”

“If nothing else, at least I’ll have raised some money to get people into shelters over Christmas where they’ll get warm food, a place to rest and a route into longer-term support,” he wrote.

The Reality

In a journal Beavis kept to document his experience, parts of which were published by The Guardian, he explained, “I’m not using any charity facilities; I am begging for money to survive – so washing and showering have been in cafe toilets with my foot against the door, or sneaking into the hospital as there are no free public bathrooms around.”

Beavis already knew quite a bit about the homeless population. He knew that 80% of homeless people have reported mental health issues. He also knew the primary cause of homelessness was a breakdown in a relationship, and that homelessness is on the rise in London.

Included in his journal, Beavis kept notes about his daily life as a homeless person. One woman accidentally knocked over the cup he used to keep his begging money in.

“The woman turned back to apologize, saw who I was, and immediately turned around again without saying a word, seemingly inconvenienced and annoyed,” wrote Beavis. “This is most people. They pull their daughters and sons away from you. You feel dirty, grubby. Because of this, you become extremely paranoid.”

Beavis also noted that he could never sleep with his sleeping bag closed for fear of being trapped if someone should attack him.

“A guy once threw a glass bottle right next to me when I was sleeping. I’m not so scared of being beaten up, but I worry about knives or sexual assault. All it takes is for someone to put something in the food they give you,” Beavis said.

He slept, on average, two or three hours per night, mostly due to paranoia, noise, and cold weather. Finding the right place to sleep was crucial as well. Ideally, he would search for shelter where he felt safest, out of the wind, and could stay dry.

“If your cardboard gets wet it’s useless, and that’s what stops the concrete from sapping the heat out of you,” Beavis said.

In the extreme cold and wind, Beavis wrapped himself in a make-shift cardboard tunnel. He had to make the choice of feeling vulnerable to attack or staying warm. He also spent his begging money on tin foil to wrap around his wrists, which he said helped but fell apart easily. Homeless people on the streets can and do freeze to death in the coldest of conditions.

Begging is a humbling experience. Waking up without any money leaves people who are homeless feeling desperate, and the more desperate you appear begging the less you generally will be given. A sign helps, but Beavis learned that if he kept his head down, he received more money. Eye contact repels people from you. Walking up to people is dangerous but puts them on the spot, so sometimes they will give. If you end up with little or no money to buy food, you search the garbage bins.

On the 27th day of his month-long experience, Beavis shared some of the most troubling and horrific realities of being homeless.

“In the last month alone, there have been two headlines about homeless people being set on fire in the UK,” he wrote.

According to a 2016 study by the homelessness charity, Crisis, the homeless are 17 times more likely to be victims of violence, mostly at the hands of the public. In more than 50% of those instances, victims stated they did not attempt to report their incident to local law authorities because they anticipated no action would be taken.

That same study revealed:

  • Homeless people are 15 times more likely to have suffered from verbal abuse.
  • More than one in three homeless people sleeping on the streets have been being deliberately hit or kicked.
  • 8 out of 10 homeless people reported being victims of crimes and antisocial behaviors, from vandalism and intimidation to being hit, kicked, threatened or urinated on.
  • 1 in 20 reported having been the victim of a sexual assault while homeless.

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, commented on the study, “Violent and abusive experiences can cause not only physical harm but can also undermine people’s attempts to seek help and move on from homelessness. Too many rough sleepers are left living in fear and isolation.”

The Conclusion

After putting himself through 30 days of hell, Beavis made one discovery very clear that he felt was prominent above all others. His conclusion? Society has dehumanized homeless people. Beavis said it’s not the homeless community he was afraid of, but rather it was a portion of the general public. The homeless are targets for violence and harassment.

“I’ve been spat on, and endlessly ignored. There have been times when not a single person has looked at me for at least two hours,” said Beavis.

“But I feel less vulnerable when there are other homeless people around. I’m obviously fresh on the streets, and only 26, so others have brought me extra cardboard to sleep on. I was even given a Christmas present by another homeless man – a clean sports shirt that had been donated to this man who has nothing.”

After thirty days, Beavis took a flight to Aberdeen to be on time for a 9:00am Anatomy class.

Beavis has worked with the homeless community for more than eight years and he firmly believes that the homeless are completely excluded from mainstream society.

He points out, “I’ve also seen a darker side to London; a side that lacks empathy and compassion.”

James Beavis’ fund-raising earned more than $51,000 (£44,793.27) for the homeless charity, Crisis. If you’d like, you can still donate to his fundraising efforts HERE.

Watch the video below:

Sources: ‘Spat on and ignored’: what I’ve learned from a month sleeping rough in London and Rough sleepers face high levels of abuse by public, study finds from The Guardian. Also, Homeless this Christmas by James Beavis on YouTube.