“People need to understand the reality of rough sleepers as none of us are born better than another, we just follow different paths.”

Matt Pyne is your average construction worker from Buckley, who uttered these words after the “hardest three days” of his life sleeping rough.

Matt is part of a voluntary team of friends from Flintshire who deliver necessary items and food to the homeless people of Chester, Wrexham, and Flintshire every Wednesday and Friday evening.

This January, he was eager to “get first-hand experience of what it is like to live rough on the streets of Chester”.

Bethan Edwards, a volunteer from Buckley, explained: “A couple of years ago we got connected with the homeless in Wrexham and Chester.

“We request donations of clothes, items, goods, and we ask a lot of people to drop them off at Thorncliffe Building Supplies in Alltami, where Matt works.

“We go into Chester and give out food, hot drinks, snacks and anything that’s donated. We’re not a registered organisation, just a group of friends who want to support the local homeless people.

It is said that Matt has an “affinity” with people on the streets and decided to sleep for four days and three nights on the streets to raise awareness of what it’s really like for his homeless comrades.

Matt wished to project “the nature of what goes on every day for the homeless” in a manner thousands could hear and hopefully relate to. So they set out with no mobile phones, a couple of quid in their pockets and some basic items that most rough sleepers have, and said it is not a decision they have taken lightly.

Matt said in his diary: “I am scared and also I am aware of how risky this could be but I want to understand the reality of sleeping rough.

“I feel vulnerable and have no idea what I should be doing. In only a short time, I felt so lonely and exposed.”

Matt decided to seek out some company and quickly met up with one of the regular faces he sees while handing out food with his voluntary group.

Matt said: “He was so happy to see me and even gave me a sandwich he had been donated.

“One of the things which constantly amazes me about those who have nothing, is that they will give you their last penny or morsel of food if they think you need it more.”

Having sated the need for human contact, Matt heard from chatting with another rough sleeper at the Crown Court about two good spots to sleep, but heard that the police would move him on if found there.

Matt recalls: “It feels so surreal, looking for a sheltered space out of the public eye, somewhere to hide just so I can stay safe. These people have to do this every day of their life. I’m overwhelmed by this reality and struck by the harshness of this life.”

Although the “cold winds of the Roman streets” were harsh, Matt was determined not to go to Richmond Court, the centre for the homeless in Chester. He did not want to take a bed from someone who really needed it and wanted to stay visible to test whether a Richmond Court worker approached him as they are obliged to.

But, Matt said: “Considering I am sat with my rucksack in the busy streets of Chester, I am invisible. Hoards of shoppers, workers and a few tourists have trudged past me and I don’t even register to them. Not even a sympathetic glance is thrown my way only a few unkind words.”

On his first night, without charitable groups such as Chester Aid for the Homeless, Matt would have gone hungry. He said: “Being completely reliant on others for basic human survival needs is not something I feel comfortable with and again, my anxiety levels start to rise. I fear for what the night may bring.

“All I can say is that the first night was the scariest night of my life. It is the first time I have ever felt so vulnerable and open to the elements and the dangers of the unknown. Every noise disturbed me. I do not fear the homeless while I slept, it was the unknown.

“I really would take my hat off to them, if it wasn’t so bloody cold.”

On Matt’s second day, he was joined with the “glimmer of happiness” of friend, Mark Jones, of Connah’s Quay for the next two nights. Matt said: “It was such a relief to know that I have someone I trust alongside me.”

At around 7pm on day two, Matt said it was so cold he couldn’t wait to see the Help the Homeless
team on their regular night of bringing hot food, clean blankets, and clothing.

Matt added: “One of the homeless guys is such a decent bloke, he is going to show us where we should sleep tonight which is safer and more covered than where I slept last night.

“This guy is a family man whose work commitments caused his life to derail. His story is one we hear all too often and he was only too happy to help us and we were humbled to sit and listen to him tell his tale.”

After the Help team left at 10pm, Mark and Matt settled down for the night with six other homeless people at Chester Cross, where they felt “safe” until “one of the guys snapped out of the blue”.

Matt recalled: “He got loud and aggressive towards two of the other homeless guys we were with so they packed up and left and after a pretty aggressive display, this one guy turned his volatility and aggression on Mark and I to the extent where we genuinely felt our safety was threatened.

“The last of the homeless we were sleeping with grabbed him as he lunged at us, and tried to explain that we were trying to spread the word and raise money to help. This was not getting through so Mark and I packed up our sleeping bags and left, as we did not think it was safe to remain in that situation.

“He had taken drugs in between our earlier chat and bedding down and was a completely different person under those circumstances. The reality is that those who sleep rough every night face these volatile and aggressive dangers as addiction and mental health issues are prevalent in the homeless community.

“This is a real and daily danger, and one we did not see coming. The volatility and violence that can occur as a result of addiction has become clear.”

By sunrise on day three, Matt and Mark had done some “soul searching” and realised the guilt they felt on their families should something bad have happened the previous night “kept hitting us in the gut”.

Matt remembered: “We decided to cut this journey short by 24 hours. It was a difficult decision to make, however we promised our families that if we found ourselves in any danger we would come home. We couldn’t shake the feeling that we would be an easy target asleep in our sleeping bags.”

But the poignant issue for Matt and Mark was: “We had the option to go home. We could go to a phone and call for help yet the people we see each and every week, do not have that option. No safety net of a nice warm bed and a cup of tea.

“Our rough sleeper friends experience those fears and dangers every minute of every day, with no get-out options.”

What also hit home for Matt was the reaction of passers by. Looking homeless with a sleeping bag, Matt felt ignored and sneered at yet after dropping his bags off in the drop-in centre, people’s reactions massively changed to his “normality”.

He said: “People looked me in the eye and would smile. They did not cross the road to avoid me or pretend they hadn’t seen me. It goes to show that doing this, and raising awareness of how thousands of people spend each and every night is immensely important.”

The three organisations Matt and Mark are expressing their thanks to are the Share Shop, Soul Kitchen, and the Chester Aid to the Homeless. The pair said these are “essential” units where homeless people can “touch base and not feel judged.”

For further information, visit https://shareaid.co.uk