Social Bite announces ‘Live Aid for homelessness’ international Sleep Out

Social Bite founder Josh Littlejohn has a new big ambition as he launches the World’s Big Sleep Out, which will see tens of thousands of people (plus special celebrity guests) taking to the streets across the world to raise millions to tackle homelessness this December

Times Square in New York, Trafalgar Square in London. These are two of the busiest places in two of the world’s biggest cities but in December, they will be taken over by thousands of people bedding down for the night.

They are among 50 cities hosting events on 7 December to raise money – and awareness – about homelessness. Organisers hope 50,000 participants will raise $50 million for the World’s Big Sleep Out.

This year his plan is to take the sleep out to the world.

“In my mind, this is the equivalent of Live Aid for the issue of global homelessness,” says organiser Josh Littlejohn.

For the last two years, the social entrepreneur has held similar sleep outs in Scotland, with 18,000 people taking part raising collectively over £7million. This year his plan is to take the sleep out to the world.

Cities confirmed so far include New York and London, alongside Edinburgh, Newcastle, Cardiff, Belfast, Dublin, Chicago, New Delhi, Barcelona, Madrid, Brussels, Santiago, Rijeka and Kharviv in the Ukraine, with more to be announced. People will also be invited to hold DIY-style events in their local communities or own gardens.

Littlejohn explains: “For one night, in backyards, hometowns and iconic locations across the globe, we will sleep out in unison to create the world’s largest display of solidarity with those experiencing homelessness and displacement.

“This is a call to city governments, business leaders, students, school children, religious groups and people from all over the world. Whether you sleep out in your backyard or Times Square New York, together we can raise a target of $50million to tackle homelessness and displacement, whilst sending a message to the world’s political leaders to ensure that everyone has a safe place to call home.”

On the night itself, people taking part will be entertained by world-renowned music acts, as well as being read a bedtime story by some of the most figures in the world, including Will Smith in New York and Dame Helen Mirren in London.

As well as this, the stage will be given to people who have experienced homelessness themselves so they can tell their own story.

Previous Sleep Outs in Scotland shone the spotlight on the big issue of homelessness in the country and Littlejohn believes this year’s event can do the same on a global scale.

A Housing First programme was created as a direct result.

“The events can make a big difference not just in the fundraising but in terms of moving the dial politically,” he says. “They had some really direct effects, which I’m really proud of. A Housing First programme was created as a direct result.”

Housing First prioritises getting homeless people accommodation so they have a stable, secure platform from which to make further improvements in their lives.

I know for a fact it shifted people’s perspectives.

“One of the things that the events did was really create a sense of momentum and public demand around the issues,” Littlejohn continues. “That enabled us to speak to housing associations and landlords and ask them if they could pledge flats to a Housing First programme. That resulted directly in 830 mainstream flats being pledged across five cities in Scotland.

“There was a pretty significant structural shift as a direct result of all those thousands of people sleeping out. I know for a fact it shifted people’s perspectives. We get emails all the time saying, ‘I used to just ignore people and walk past them but now I’ll always stop and chat’ or ‘I see it in a totally different light’. Whilst it’s in no way intended to like replicate rough sleeping or the true reality of it, it undoubtedly gives a bit of an insight and raises people’s empathy.”

The World’s Big Sleep Out will be run in collaboration with local organisations in each city as well as international partners such as the Malala Fund, UNICEF USA and the Institute of Global Homelessness.

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Money raised will be split 50/50 between local organisations tackling homelessness in each city withthe other half directed towards international homelessness; refugees and people who have been displaced.

“This is definitely positioned as a one-off campaign to really focus global attention on this particular issue and try and raise an extremely significant sum of money,” Littlejohn says.

“Hopefully if we can execute this like we hope to then it will do something similar for homelessness that Live Aid did around the issue of famine relief and poverty.”

For more see next week’s Big Issue magazine bigsleepout.com