A FORMER Warwick University student is braving the elements and sleeping rough on the streets of London this Christmas to raise awareness and funds for the country’s homeless population.
James Beavis, who studied biomedical science at the university, has taken to the capital’s streets with nothing but a bag of clothes, his teddy bear and a sleeping bag for a month in the hopes of raising £25,000 for homelessness charity Crisis.
The 26-year-old, who is now studying medicine at the University of Aberdeen, will beg for money for food and sleep out in the freezing cold – documenting his experience using a phone, though he will not be contacting his family.
James, who started sleeping rough on December 9 will stay on the streets until January 9, meaning he will spend both Christmas and New Year away from his loved ones.
“The hardest thing is the actually the loneliness,” James exclusively told the Observer.
“People walk past me in the street and ignore me – literally not even see me.
“I sat on Oxford Street for one-and-a-half hours over the weekend and nobody came to talk to me.
“I saw the greed of people falling over each other to get into shops and leave with overflowing bags only for some to shout at me for being in their way.”
But this isn’t the only struggle James is facing.
Each night he scours the streets trying to find somewhere safe and sheltered to sleep, but with security staff moving him on each morning he has not been able to find a spot to call his own.
He said: “Drunken lads are the worst.
“A rough sleeper friend of mine told me to always sleep with your sleeping bag unzipped so you can get out of it when someone sets you on fire or beats you up.
“Homeless people get attacked all the time and this experience has really opened my eyes to how scary a group of drunken lads can be to a vulnerable person.”
James previously spent eight days and nights homeless on the streets of London in 2012, raising an impressive £28,000 for Crisis.
But he was inspired to return to the streets for a whole month after he heard the Government statistic that there are now around 1,000 more rough sleepers in England compared to four years ago.
He hopes to not only smash his fundraising target, but change people’s perception of homelessness.
He added: “A lot of people have ideas about who homeless people are.
“But the reality is that everyone makes mistakes and some then find themselves in situations they did not think they’d ever be in.
“I’ll be the first person to hold my hands up and say I’ve made mistakes in my life, but I was lucky in that I had a support network around me.
“A lot of homeless people didn’t have that and once you’re in the cycle of homelessness, it’s really hard to get out of it.”
James chose to fundraise for Crisis after seeing first-hand the work they do for rough sleepers when he volunteered at one of their centres.
When many other shelters close their doors over Christmas, Crisis opens theirs and welcomes in people who have nowhere else to go – offering them warm food, somewhere to rest and a route into long-term support out of homelessness.
Urging people to support him, James is asking people to like the ‘Homeless at Christmas’ page on Facebook and share any of the videos and updates he posts on there.
He added: “I’m really keen to raise as much money as I can and reach as many people as I can.
“Just £22.32 pays for a place a Crisis this Christmas and it can help change someone’s life.
“But if you can’t give money, then please think about the way you treat rough sleepers.
“A smile or a hello can help make someone’s day, or even their Christmas, and just stopping to have a chat with them – even if you don’t give them any change – can help them feel less invisible.”
Visit www.facebook.com/homelessatxmas for updates on how James is doing and www.virginmoneygiving.com/jamesbeavis to donate.