Dame Helen Mirren reading the bed time story at the Big Sleep Out London, Trafalgar Square. Photo courtesy of Big Sleep Out
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The World’s Big Sleep Out kicked off in Hutt City, New Zealand on Saturday 7th December; Brisbane followed, then through Asia to Europe, including London’s Trafalgar Square; jumping across the pond to Times Square in New York before the grand finale at the iconic Rose Bowl Stadium in LA, totalling 52 cities globally.

From freezing conditions in Chicago to a heatwave in Brisbane, 60,000 participants braved all weather conditions to come together and sleep out just for one night in support of those who have no other choice  Each event provided a mixture of entertainment and opportunities for participants to reflect on the serious issue as they stood in solidarity with homeless and displaced people throughout the world and helped raise money for charities working at local and international levels.

100% of funds raised by the public will go towards homelessness charities, with the money invested to sustainably help around 1,000,000 homeless and displaced people all over the world. As well as benefiting local charities, international partners for the campaign include UNICEF USA, Malala Fund and the Institute of Global Homelessness.

Big Sleep Out performers included Rag'n'Bone Man, Travis, and Helen Mirren
Big Sleep Out performers included Rag’n’Bone Man, Travis, and Helen Mirren

The campaign, founded by Josh Littlejohn MBE, originated from a small café in Edinburgh called Social Bite which started offering employment to homeless people. The charity organised a small sleep out in 2016 with only 270 participants and the events have grown each year in Scotland, culminating in this global night of solidarity.

The number of rough sleepers in England has dramatically increased by 165% since 2010, rising at a faster pace in London compared to the rest of the country. Elsewhere in the UK, numbers have more than doubled in Wales since 2008. Scotland – seasoned campaigners in the fight against homelessness has still struggled with increases in rough sleeping in recent years.

Live music performances, speeches, and poems came from such heavyweights like Travis, Rag ‘n’ Bone Man, Tom Walker, Jake Bugg, Gang of Youths and Sir Chris Hoy.

Homelessness and substance abuse

Ikon London Magazine spoke to Dame Louise Casey CBE about the problem of homelessness, mental health, and substance abuse. The host of ‘Casey’s Corner’ admitted that there is a problem of substance abuse and mental disorders among homeless people. Namely, a whopping 88% of homeless on the streets of London have either substance abuse or mental health issues. The topic that we previously discussed with Emilio Estevez at the premiere of his film at TIFF.

When asked how often do homeless people reject the hostels and allocated housing, Dame Louise Casey admitted that the problem does exist. More so among those who live on the streets the longest. “That’s why we are supporting charities who can help people to stay away from the streets to begin with.” It is easier to prevent homelessness than to get someone out of the street and provide all-rounded support.

Headliners of the night included Rag’n’Bone Man, Travis, and Helen Mirren

As to the entertainment, not just one but two headliners decided to treat the audience to their new ‘never before performed’ songs. Rag’n’Bone Man – not losing any time – started with his new song. The title is yet to be confirmed we presume.

The Glasgow rock band Travis announced from the stage that – inspired by Rag’n’Bone Man’s ‘ballsy’ move – they will perform their new song ‘Kissing in the Wind’. Needless to say, the public was greatly appreciative of the treat.

As to the bedtime story, Dame Helen Mirren appeared on the stage in a historical costume with a big burgundy leather book in her arm. She proceeded to read one heart-warming bedtime Christmas-themed tale ‘Magi’. Changing the accent of the characters in the middle of the story – from English to redneck American, Helen Mirren warmed up our hearts with a wonderfully inspiring message before heading off ‘to sleep outside with her friends in North London’.

To support the cause and donate, visit WWW.BIGSLEEPOUT.COM

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Editor in Chief of Ikon London Magazine, journalist, film producer and founder of The DAFTA Film Awards (The DAFTAs).