Catherine Gaffaney is a general reporter based in Auckland.

Big Sleepout participants deal with night of extreme weather

New Zealand Herald reporter Catherine Gaffaney takes part in the Big Sleepout held at AUT. Photo / Dean Purcell
New Zealand Herald reporter Catherine Gaffaney takes part in the Big Sleepout held at AUT. Photo / Dean Purcell

Waking up this morning, my hair was a mess, my fingers were frozen and my back was sore.

Last night, I slept on a sheet of cardboard in AUT University's quad through Auckland's wind and wintry conditions for Lifewise's annual Big Sleepout, which raises awareness and money for homelessness.

It was a night of extreme weather: lightning strikes, rumbling thunder, rain and cool winds. Participants made temporary beds under the best shelter available but many woke to damp cardboard and sleeping bags.

Some participants wore thermals upon thermals, others the complete works -- big puffer jacket, warm trousers, woollen hat, gloves and scarf. A few others opted for an animal onesie.

Kicking off at 5pm, the Big Sleepout was about more than just having a go at bearing the conditions many homeless New Zealanders deal with every night.

A variety of people who are involved with homelessness, including a man who used to sleep on the street -- or anywhere he could find -- ran workshops related to housing and homelessness and spoke about the challenges of dealing with homelessness in New Zealand.

Politicians, councillors, well-known New Zealanders and many who simply wanted to do what they could for some of the country's most vulnerable citizens, took part.

Some of the 135 participants spoke of wanting to draw attention to Auckland's housing crisis. Others just wanted to do something to help the homeless they walk past every day on Queen St in Auckland's CBD.

My motivation was to support a cause that draws attention to and proactively supports some of New Zealand's most vulnerable citizens.

I may not be feeling as perky as the majority of Kiwis who spent the night in warm beds in warm houses this morning, but I count myself lucky.

I spent the night outside by choice. And last night will be the only one of the year I'll be relying on all the layers of clothing I could scramble together, the best sleeping bag I could find and a mere sheet of cardboard to keep me as warm and comfortable as possible at night. The Auckland street choir even sang us to sleep.

Lifewise was aiming to raise $400,000 towards the cause this year. By 8.30pm yesterday, the donations had almost reached $300,000.

- NZ Herald

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