Sleeping Rough

by The Youth Worker

Sleeping Rough

In 1997, I worked in a really rough crisis shelter for adolescent boys. It was my first and most difficult job. On my first day, I saw the awful rooms the boys had to sleep in; two to a room, no locks on the doors, graffiti everywhere, burn marks, hardly any furniture. My heart sank.

We did what we could to help, and offered a better place to stay than some of these boys would have had otherwise. They had so little, but two of them taught me how they still had something to give.

Allan and Pete, aged 15 and 16, were mates (buddies), and they never forgot it. Allan was staying at the crisis shelter one winter, when it was wet, windy and cold. Pete had the flu, but there were no beds available. We had strict bed limits, and the beds were always in demand, no matter what time of year.

In order to help Pete find shelter for the night, Allan gave up his place. This required Allan to formally “exit” himself, after which Pete could apply for a bed. If Allan had not left voluntarily, Pete would have had to spend the night outside in the rain, which we called “sleeping rough.”

To be admitted, Pete had to call from a phone booth away from the shelter. Allan went with Pete and held him up — literally — while Pete called in. With Allan’s place empty, we were allowed to admit Pete.

Of course, this meant Allan had to sleep rough, in the wind and rain. But in order to give his mate a week in a warm bed with medical care, that’s exactly what he chose to do. I knew what was going on, but could not give shelter to both boys. I was bound by guidelines, fire laws, and other restrictions.

Since then, I have seen many adolescent boys who needed shelter, and some who spent too many nights sleeping rough. We lost one young man a few years later — to pneumonia, which was completely treatable. At his funeral, I once again met Pete. He was happy, healthy and in a relationship. He had come to pay his respects.

I have not seen Allan, the boy who gave up his bed, since then. But believe me, I wish him well! I have never forgotten his selflessness. At the age of just 15, he looked into the future and saw that one or two nights of his discomfort would allow his friend to survive.

Originally published as HeroicStories #392 on Mar 17, 2003

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