‘I’m always tired, Miss’: the sleepless children of Leeds’ bed poverty crisis | Poverty

R.real heroes don’t wear cloaks, but they bring duvets. Like Bex Wilson and her father Mark, who spent the night before Christmas bringing beds and duvets to children who would otherwise have slept on the floor or in a bathtub.

“It amazes people how many children in Leeds have no beds. It surprised me, ”said Wilson.

On Christmas Eve alone, the couple delivered beds to 17 children across Leeds. It would have been 21 beds, but one family was so infested with insects that it was better to wait before delivering new beds.

In the week leading up to Christmas, the charity Wilson founded with friends delivered 50 beds. Since 2018, the Zarach Association has given more than 1,400 beds, mattresses, duvets and sheets to families and children who otherwise had no prospects.

As a teacher at an elementary school in Burmantofts, Leeds, Wilson was stunned that the children in her class were living in such desperate circumstances.

“There was one little boy who was usually fine and he had a bad morning and was moody and small with his classmates. So I told him at the end of the class, are you okay? Are you tired? And he just said, ‘I’m always tired, miss, I don’t have a bed.’ That’s exactly how he said it.

“I couldn’t believe it and said, what do you mean, you don’t have a bed? And he pulled up his sweater and showed me sores on my stomach that were bed bug bites from him and his brother and sister who share an infected sofa pillow on the floor in his house. “

Cannot believe the lack of support even in a city like Leeds with all its resources, Wilson decided to act. Her father had a delivery van and a connection to a bed factory, so after consulting her headmistress and the mother of the student, she set off.

Prepare mattresses for delivery
Wilson prepares mattresses for delivery. Photo: Gary Calton / The Observer

“I honestly thought at the time that I would go into this house and there would be a place in every bedroom where the beds belong and that I would feel like a great teacher if I turned those beds out,” she said.

“But when we went into the house to deliver the beds, the only thing in the house was a white plastic garden chair. There was no other furniture. I thought they must have just moved in. But mom explained that they had been there for months.

“It was quite late when we got there. The mother stood on the white plastic chair and took the lightbulb out of the socket in the living room downstairs, and she went upstairs and put it in there because she only had one working lightbulb. “

The single mother was a victim of fraud and moved into an unfurnished house to save money. Wilson found that there was no food in the house other than some milk. “I was absolutely stunned that a child I had been teaching for weeks and had known for a long time was going through this. It changed the rest of my life. “

A few weeks later, the mother appeared at the school gate and handed Wilson some cash. “I said I don’t want to repay and she said, ‘No, I’ll give this to you so you can buy them for other families like mine.'”

Wilson said she resisted the idea of ​​starting a charity to provide beds. “I thought, there can’t be that many children without beds, it’s the UK of the 21st century. How bad can it be? “

But previous research by the Buttle UK Trust has ranked Leeds as one of the worst areas for “bed poverty” in the UK, with more than 5,000 children living in the city without beds.

A nagging feeling that something had to be done caused Wilson and a few friends to start Zarach, but had to make difficult decisions: “We often weighed up, well, this kid sleeps in the bathtub or something.” Child sleeps on a beanbag, but we only had the money to buy a bed for one. “

While Wilson remains a dedicated full-time teacher and assistant principal, support for Zarach has grown so that it can afford to pay a small number of staff and has expanded to include food clubs, emergency gas and electricity supplies, school uniforms exchanges, and vacations Projects.

The Covid pandemic has led to an increase in demand, according to Wilson, particularly due to the number of families fleeing domestic violence.

Bex Wilson with her father Mark
Bex Wilson with her father Mark. Photo: Gary Calton / The Observer

“I was in a house last week, there was no carpet, no furniture, no curtains on the windows, just nothing, a few garbage bags with clothes, and that was it. But the parents were so happy – she said: “I feel like I’ve won the lottery, I’ve been living in a hotel with three children in one room for six months because I fled domestic violence and I just have” got this house from the council in time for Christmas. ‘”

While the local authorities are doing their best, Wilson says they are overwhelmed by the demands they face.

Zarach has now expanded outside of Leeds, to Dewsbury in West Yorkshire and Romford in East London, where it hopes to apply the lessons Wilson and her colleagues have learned.

Zarach, Wilson explains, is the Hebrew word for rising light, from a verse in Isaiah that to help the hungry and the oppressed a light rises in the darkness. The inspiration came from the first mother who had to move her only lightbulb to give birth to bed.

“She said, ‘You were the light on my darkest day and I’ll never forget that.’ And that’s what I wanted with everything that Zarach did to bring hope to desperate situations. “

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