SLEEPING rough to 'stop' homelessness. It couldn't make any difference, could it?

Relatively affluent folk slumming it for fun for a night in dry carboard boxes and clean plastic bags. What do they know about the reality of a night on the streets?

If you volunteer for Trinity Homeless Projects' Big SleepOut these questions are likely to trouble you as you settle down in your cosy, warm sleeping bag after a mug of hot soup and a jacket potato. Reality this isn't. Realism? As the rain begins to fall and a cold wind swirls round Uxbridge Athletics Stadium, no matter how much of a jolly this might seem you can't help a shiver of cold mixed with apprehension. And those nagging questions.

Can I place myself truly out of the way of homelessness? How many of us could? Is it one pay packet away? Two?

When the patience of friends, mortgage holders and employers runs out, and if the love and trust of family breaks down, where would we be? What if we really had to find somewhere to sleep late on a winter's night?

Last Friday, along with about 80 other people, I found myself under the roof of the stand at the stadium off Gatting Way pondering these questions as I built a bijou des res out of cardboard boxes donated by Safestore of Ruislip, big supporters of Trinity.

I had chivvied friends and collegues to sponsor me, filled in the required forms and layered up with warm clothes ready for a night on the cold, hard ground.

The Big SleepOut is a vital fundraiser for a charity which takes a reparational approach to homeless people: more than simply re-housing them as an emergency measure, vital though that is, Trinity's emphasis is on helping people to help themselves.

It employs many of those who have reached out to it for help, or gives them a leg up into training or further education. That costs money.

But it also pays off, big time. During one of several get togethers in the stadium coffee shop, a guilty pleasure out of the biting wind, we met Steph, a 22 year old who came to Trinity aged 18 from what she told us had been 'an abusive background'.

"I had very low self-esteem and always thought I was worthless," she said, saying some days she found it hard to even lift her head from the pillow. "I had had about 20 addresses between the ages of 13 and 16."

After someone at the P3 hostel in High Street, West Drayton, suggested she got in touch with Trinity, she was offered supported accommodation - another Trinity cornerstone where rehoused people are mentored and monitored - and was given the help she needed to think about going to college.

"I also started working in the Trinity [furniture] shop and got a job at Nando's as a waitress," she said. "I got qualifications and now I'm applying to to university to be a paramedic. I have discovered that I can be where I want to be and I will achieve my goals and my dreams. I'm going to get to where I want to be."

With that, Steph blew out with a gaggle of friends. She's done her stint of 'housing insecurity'. I doubt anyone begrudged her a proper bed for the night.

The rest of us headed for the boxes.

The third Trinity Homeless Projects has raised s13,800 at the time of writing. More will come in.

That could provide many things, but Paul Mitchell, the commercial director of Trinity, put it into context.

"What this will do is allow us to house eight people for 12 months, which is a fantastic goal to have reached but which shows the need for support in this area and the ongoing need to keep doing this.

"We are incredibly grateful to those who supported us and we will be doing it again next year, and looking to double it in size."

You can still donate to the Big SleepOut 2011. Visit and follow the Virgin Money Giving link.