A student who plays a crucial role in helping homeless people to survive is taking on a gruelling challenge to raise cash for a night shelter
University of Northampton undergraduate, Paul Millen, is preparing to walk 150 miles to raise money for the Nightlight shelter, which offers a winter refuge for those living on the streets of his home-town of Corby.
A volunteer team leader at Nightlight, Paul has seen first-hand the difference it makes to the lives – and chances of survival – of the homeless.
“Before the introduction of Nightlight I encountered a number of local homeless people and you could see the impact that extreme cold has, no one deserves to live like that, and in some cases people literally froze to death,” said the 28-year-old Law and Social Work student.
Nightlight is run by volunteers from local churches and the wider community, using The Epiphany church hall as the venue. It provides a warm place to sleep and a hot meal for the homeless during winter.
It does not receive funding from central government and relies, in the main, on the generosity of donors to pay for running costs. With this in mind, Paul and his friend Kyle Hall, who also volunteers at Nightlight will walk 150 miles from Birmingham to London along the Grand Union Canal towpath in September to raise cash for the shelter.
Paul said: “Many guests have been saved from suffering the pain of sleeping on the streets in sub-zero temperatures thanks to Nightlight.
“Symptoms from sleeping out in such conditions which I have seen include frost bite, delusion, a lock jaw-type condition which limits speech purely from tensing muscles and shaking constantly, all sorts of bad chests and coughs, and people whose joints don’t move correctly just because they are so cold – like not being able to bend fingers and pick things up.”
The guests at the shelter are usually male and aged between 21 and late-60s. Some are holding down jobs in local factories, but are sleeping rough because they cannot scrape together the large deposits landlords demand for a room.
Alcohol and drug addiction issues are common, and are usually combined with mental health problems too, said Paul.
He added: “There are guests who just need a bed to tide them over until they can get somewhere to live, due to relationship breakdowns and so on, and also those we know as entrenched rough sleepers with more complex needs.
“Many have also faced sharp inequality as kids and have not had the same start in life as others; abuse is also prevalent in many of the guests’ histories.
“I know of one man who was badly abused as a child and taken into care where he was abused further. He suffers with a head injury which has given rise to an organic type of psychosis.
“Sometimes you can feel the lack of love or emptiness inside such people; the world has only ever been cruel to this man. Society’s answer is to put him in prison over and over again, and in my opinion, he is being punished for his upbringing.
“After working at the shelter for a few years now, I truly believe that willy nilly giving is not the answer though. The shelter is a Christian-run organisation and has an ethos of love at its core, but the love must be thoughtful and targeted if it is to serve a useful purpose.”
You can sponsor Paul and Kyle by visiting their fundraising page.