James Beavis is a medical student in Aberdeen. In December 2016 he decided to raise money for homeless charity Crisis, by experiencing what a month out on London's streets at Christmas is actually like.
Homelessness continues apace in today's London; over 8,000 people sleep rough on the city's streets every year and that number is on the rise. Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, recently wrote about how we cannot just accept rough sleeping as an everyday fact of life.
What James discovered by positioning himself as homeless was truly heartbreaking. He was spat on by passers by and continually ignored... a dehumanising experience. He was afraid to sleep with sleeping bag closed — which would provide vital warmth — because he'd be trapped if someone attacked him. And this isn't baseless paranoia; more than one out of three people on the streets are deliberately attacked.
Many view homeless people as only having themselves to blame. However, over 80% of the homeless community are reported to having a mental health issue. Many used to be 'regular' citizens, with jobs, flats, social lives. Suddenly everything spirals out of control and they've nowhere to go.
Just as homeless people shouldn't all be tarred by the same brush, nor should Londoners. James did experience acts of kindness that made his day immeasurably better. Waking up with some food by his head, or someone making him a cup of tea. Even just a smile from a passerby, ensuring that acknowledgement that he was there and still a person, meant so much.
He was also made to feel at home and safe by the homeless community, who got him some extra cardboard for warmth. One man even bought him a Christmas present: a clean shirt.
James has raised over £50,000. Not only does that make incredible strides in providing shelter for vulnerable people sleeping rough, he's raised awareness for homeless people in London everywhere.