I've been working for Barnabus for 9 years now and I really thought I understood rough sleeping. Until I did the CEO Sleepout.

Every day people tell us they have been robbed, beaten up, urinated on and even people trying to set fire to their sleeping bags and tents. I can never sleep when the weather is bad at night for thinking about the people we know are on the street.

I was dreading sleeping out, I couldn't imagine it. Even in a safe space like the Emirates Old Trafford, surrounded by other people with compassion for people who are homeless. All that was keeping me going was the sponsorship of so many people - I didn't want to let anyone down.

What I really wasn't prepared for was how physically and mentally uncomfortable I would be. 

I have the blessing of a comfortable bed every night; lying on a mat on the concrete under The Point at Emirates Old Trafford really brought it home to me what people have to endure when they have no bed. I just could not get comfortable all night; even though I was in a sleeping bag with my coat, hat and several layers, I tossed and turned. Every time I managed to fall asleep, I woke up again through the aches and pains of being on a hard surface and the knowledge that I was not sleeping where I am accustomed.

During those wakeful hours, I was thinking of all the people I know, and have known, who have slept on our streets through no fault of their own. The worst moment was thinking about women on the street who are so at risk of being abused, beaten up, sexually assaulted. No wonder they seek the safety of a group of men, even though the price is often being prostituted or given drugs. I thought of the rising number of extremely vulnerable women seeking help at Barnabus; many of whom are in abusive relationships. I felt absolutely broken that there is so little specialist suppported accommodation for this group of people.

I was also thinking about the fact that I could go home at the end and that people sleep on our streets for days, weeks, months at a time. They get blamed for that because we as citizens can't face our own guilt in how they have been failed. The reality is that so many of them have lost faith in broken systems, have tried to get help but services can't change in their approach either due to ingrained culture ('it's you, not me') or due to the continuous funding cuts that so many services have had thrown at them by the government every year. 

I have always understood that homelessness is psychologically traumatic and that people are traumatised by even one night sleeping rough. I definitely went home with a lot on my mind and the world's biggest to-do list. I saw the people we have helped over the years in a different light. It is testament to the human spirit that people can continue to even live like this and that we don't see more suicides as a result. Maybe that's also thanks to the hundreds of charities up and down the country stepping in where the local authority and commissioned services can't? 

Either way I feel changed by my very short, very safe experience at CEO Sleepout and I feel even more determined to change systems, to bring compassion and a sense of humanity to what can feel like a faceless system.