A tiny taste of homelessness: from a Bentley Bentayga to a sleeping bag

With homelessness rising, Bentley communications boss Wayne Bruce joins charity Bus Shelter UK to highlight the horrors of sleeping rough

I wonder where you are reading this. Perhaps it’s at home. Or maybe you’re sitting in the car. Well, either way, I truly hope your car isn’t doubling up as your home. It is, though, for an increasing number of people across the country today – and not through choice, as I’m discovering one very cold November night.

Homelessness is, sadly, nothing new and it’s certainly not going away. Nor will it be disappearing from the news any time soon, following comments made by a certain former cabinet member. But, really, why would anyone choose to live their life on the streets? Or even in their car? I plan to find out and tell you all about it.

I’m in Milton Keynes, Bucks, and I’m not in a car, let alone a Bentley. In fact, I’m outside without protection from the inevitable rain. And I’m with 40 or so others in an event organised by CEO Sleep Out, which helps business leaders (who don’t have to be a CEO) experience homelessness, and raise money for homeless charities that really need it. They’ve raised a great deal of money over the 10 years they’ve been operating similar events.

The night has begun with a ride to the venue in a slightly incongruous Bentley Bentayga at the request of Auto Express’s editor-in-chief, Steve Fowler. Great, Steve, thanks. Let’s arrive at an event to raise awareness for homelessness in a car that’s worth the equivalent of a reasonable flat in most cities. I think it’s revenge for me persuading him to herd sheep in a Bentayga earlier this year. Both events have been possible because I’m blessed to work in the Bentley Communications team.

My first job is to register and sign the inevitable disclaimer, which rather disconcertingly includes the line: ‘I may even die’. Gulp.

Beforehand, each participant was told it would be up to them to bring what they’d need, but fortunately CEO Sleep Out has also provided a comprehensive list of important equipment, ranging from thick socks to a ground sheet. At the recommendation of colleagues who camp, I’ve added a Bivi Bag. If you’re not familiar with this, as I wasn’t, it’s a giant foil bag (silver on the inner side to reflect your body heat) into which you insert your sleeping bag. I now think it’s the world’s best invention since four-wheel steering.

After a sad farewell to the Bentayga, it’s time to find a place to pitch, the choice being grass or concrete. We then hear from some of Milton Keynes’ homeless charities, including the one I’m fundraising for, The Bus Shelter MK. What they have to say is shocking. The cost-of-living crisis has impacted us all. Some of us might have forgone a holiday, but there are more and more people who can no longer afford rent, let alone a mortgage. And often, it’s through no fault of their own.

Pam Williams, chair of trustees and a founding member of the charity, tells me her team are being contacted by an increasing number of people sleeping in cars. These are people who have recently had a home, a job and enough income to afford to run a car, but who now find themselves homeless. Among her current guests is one young man and his disabled dog, who were both sleeping in his car until it got towed away with all his belongings. As the only homeless facility in the area that accepts dogs, The Bus Shelter MK was his sole hope, and thank goodness the charity had a vacancy for both parties.

Other guests who were sleeping in their vehicles before coming to their shelter include a self-employed builder
who could no longer work due to a bad back, and whose marriage broke down as a result. And then there’s a taxi driver who also found himself homeless after a relationship breakdown – a common reason for homelessness.

Someone else who has chosen to join the Sleep Out and raise money for The Bus Shelter MK is James Tonks, Account Manager for Marine and ATV at the Milton Keynes HQ of Suzuki. He’s taken part because he believes passionately that everybody today should have a roof over their head. We of course also talk cars, his being a Suzuki Swace estate. And we both come to the conclusion that it would make a brilliant choice to spend the night in.

But we aren’t here to sleep in a car. It’s time to get into our sleeping bags. I’d stopped looking at the weather forecast (what you don’t know can’t hurt you) but I know it’s going to rain at some point. Which it does.

My wonderful Bivi Bag keeps me dry, but as I go on to discover, even the combination of industrial-strength ear-plugs and a Bentley woollen beanie isn’t anywhere near enough to drown out the noise of Milton Keynes nightlife. Car alarms included. And I start to really shiver as the night edges slowly towards morning. So it’s fair to say I get not much, if any, sleep.

I’m actually at my coldest when I get out of the bag and have to pack all my belongings together to return to the Bentayga. And as soon as I get in, the heated seats are definitely turned up to ‘Max’.

It was just one night. I thankfully didn’t die. I was warned of rats, although the only thing that joined me in my sleeping bag was a worm. I didn’t experience any abuse from the public. Nor politicians. But, my goodness, it has made me think – as was intended – of all those for whom it’s their life. Not a style. And certainly not a choice.

The Bus Shelter MK

The Bus Shelter MK provides a temporary home, healthy food and one-to-one support to people who would otherwise be sleeping on the streets.

Since it opened in 2017, more than 200 people have been given a temporary home and hope for the future. The team works through the complex issues preventing each individual from making a fresh start – renewing ID documents, obtaining a bank account, getting access to health professionals, finding employment and, of course, securing an affordable home.

Once based in a bus, (hence the name), the charity now has 21 bedrooms in four locations across the city, although sadly that number is nowhere near enough and desperate people are being turned away every day.

Pam Williams, chair of trustees of The Bus Shelter MK said: “Thanks to everyone who joined the CEO Sleep Out. Business leaders can help in so many other ways, too, by offering work opportunities and supporting staff who volunteer.”

The money Wayne raised will help with the ever-increasing running costs. It takes £100 per week to support one of the charity’s guests and it spends £1,000 per month on utility bills alone. For more information and to donate, please visit: thebussheltermk.org

• Wayne Bruce has waived a fee for this feature; instead Auto Express has made a donation to The Bus Shelter MK

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