Student spends Christmas on the streets

By Laura Maltby Friday 11 January 2013 Updated: 11/01 14:22

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Warwick University student James Beavis slept rough in Lewisham for eight nights to raise money for homeless charity Crisis. (s)

A CHILDHOOD teddy, rucksack, spare jumper, sleeping bag, video camera and can of John Smith's bitter was all one Warwick University student had for company this Christmas.

After volunteering for Crisis during the festive period in 2011, biomedical sciences student James Beavis, who lives in Leamington during term time, was inspired to help the homeless charity again in 2012.

But rather than simply fundraising for his chosen cause, the 22-year-old bravely decided to experience first-hand what it would be like to live on the streets.

So on December 22 he swapped the comfort and surroundings of his friends and family at home in Devon for eight nights sleeping rough in one of London's most deprived districts.

With no money, no ID and no contact he trawled the streets of Lewisham begging for food and water before documenting his experiences each day using a small £25 video camera and uploading, when possible, his videos to Youtube.

And speaking to the Observer a week after the challenge, James admitted his time on the streets had helped open his eyes to the difficulties faced by homeless people.

He said: “I am happy to be back within four walls and with my friends but there are thousands of people still out there.

“The most depressing thing was the total lack of recognition from others, not just a movement of the eyes but a full 90-degree turn of the head. It seems if you're not in someones vision, you're not a problem they have to tackle.

“Equally the fear of being attacked and the bone-aching cold give you a clear sense of vulnerability with no sense of hope as you know you will be in exactly the same position the next night.

“The low point came when I had a bottle of vodka thrown at me as I was wet and scared. I felt like I had to defend myself but couldn't walk away from my sleeping bag.”

But the experience wasn't all bad for James. Over 14,000 people have watched his video from the streets and supporters have donated more than £27,000 towards the appeal.

This money will be used to pay for 1300 places at a Crisis at Christmas centre as well as medical care, food, advice and referral on a range of issues including housing and mental health for homeless people – a community James feels deserve more recognition.

“Society as a collective have created an ill-informed opinion about homeless people based on little or no interaction with them.

“Having experienced being homeless first-hand it's time to lobby the government for better facilities and more rights for our homeless community - people on the streets deserve respect from everyone.”

Visit www.virginmoneygiving.com/jamesbeavis to sponsor James.

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