Paul Little at large

Paul Little is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Paul Little: Sleeping rough a mere party trick

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Throughout her time in France, the empress Marie Antoinette, a foreign bride shipped in from Austria, never really clicked with the locals.

Among her more annoying habits was a penchant for playing milkmaid. She and her cobbers would frock-up as farm workers, grab a bucket and stool and head off to bother the cows that were kept on her miniature farm in the grounds of Versailles.

When they got sick of that game they took a carriage back to the palace and chowed down on angel hair pasta made from the hair of real angels.

The pastoral pantomime was somewhat insensitive when the daily intake of the average citizen was low. The French began to feel revolutionary stirrings.

But at least Marie Antoinette never claimed that her pastoral play-acting was all in a good cause.

Next Saturday, in the words of the form letter that those taking part have been circulating seeking sponsorship, you too could join "a bunch of influential Kiwis at the annual Lifewise Big Sleepout".

Annual since 2010, that is. It's about homelessness. The participants will "be homeless for the night in a determined effort to bring critical attention and funding to this solvable issue".

In other words a pack of very usual suspects are going to sleep rough for a night in winter. And for once it won't be because their cars have broken down in the middle of nowhere or they have been locked out of their homes by their spouses.

This constitutes, says Lifewise, "a no-holds-barred approach to exposing what is often an invisible issue".

Surely the point about homeless people is that they are all too visible. You can't miss them. They're everywhere. Because they don't have homes to go to.

As an organisation, Lifewise does many great things to help homeless people directly and practically. This isn't one of them.

One night in the cold is not a sacrifice; it's a party trick. Many of the participants are probably compiling their iPod playlists as I write this - Streets of London, King of the Road, Help Me Make It Through the Night.

At least the participants in the next charity event, Dry July, starting a week later, will suffer in amusing ways as they go without grog for 31 days.

The catch-22 for them is that the more they present themselves as hopeless winos desperate for a drink, the more money they are likely to raise for cancer services.

Meanwhile, virtue, as usual, will go unrewarded.

And what of the many high-profile abstainers among us - should they hop off the wagon for a few weeks?

It's for a good cause.

Unfortunately, charity these days is nothing unless it's a media event, and all too often the focus on the event takes all the attention from the charity. It can end up making the problem less visible.

Predictably, the Big Sleepout has a Youtube video, in which a homeless person describes his life.

Turns out homeless people sound awfully like Eric Young. Oh wait, it is Eric Young. He's not homeless but he's going to be one of the people pretending to be on Saturday.

But let's give the slumber partiers the benefit of the doubt. Let's assume they make people more "aware" of homelessness. Then what?

Exactly. They make the Occupy protesters look like hard-headed pragmatists with a credible action plan.

Ending homelessness is a top idea. This isn't going to do it.

- Herald on Sunday

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