By David Spereall, local democracy reporter
A Bramley and Stanningley councillor is one of a group of seven Labour ward members will sleep rough next week as part of a drive to raise awareness about homelessness in Leeds.
Homeless charity Simon on the Streets is holding a Big Sleep Out event in the city’s Millennium Square overnight next Thursday, 20 October.
Labour councillors Julie Heselwood (Bramley and Stanningley) Andrew Scopes (Beeston and Holbeck), Karen Renshaw (East Ardsley and Robin Hood), Emmie Bromley (Horsforth), Salma Arif (Gipton and Harehills), Eleanor Thomson (Guiseley and Rawdon) and Helen Hayden (Temple Newsam) will all take part in the fundraiser, which dozens are expected to attend.
Collectively, the elected members are hoping to raise £500 for Simon on the Streets.
Councillor Heselwood, who has taken part in a previous Big Sleep Out organised by the charity, said the experience “opens your eyes” to the daily lives of homeless people.
She said: “There’s no way you can sleep properly when you do it, because of the weather, because you’re outside and you’ve got no protection.
“On the night we’ll have access to a toilet and we’ll have a flask of tea and a sleeping bag. But people on the streets don’t have access to any of that.
“I think it’s more important than ever to use our profile as councillors to attend the Big Sleep Out and raise awareness for the plight of people who are homeless.”
Councillor Heselwood said more and more people were presenting as homeless at her surgeries because of the cost-of-living crisis.
She said a shortage of social housing in the city, attributed to the right-to-buy scheme and a lack of council funding, was also contributing to the crisis.
Councillor Scopes added: “There’s a real link between the cost-of-living crisis and homelessness, particularly for the most vulnerable people who don’t have a family network or a social network. It’s serious.”
“Doing the challenge for us is about raising awareness, raising money and it’s going to be an experience for us to see how tough it is for those who are sleeping rough every night.
“I’ve got a warm bed and a warm house to come back to, which homeless people don’t have. I think it’s going to be an eye opener.”
Seven councillors and they only expect to raise £500 between them. Really? They’re really not trying. Makes me wonder what other things in their job they don’t really make the effort for.