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.
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.