Mirren “jumped on board” when asked to read a bedtime story for The World’s Big Sleep Out
Dame Helen Mirren said it was only a matter of luck that kept her family off the streets while she was growing up as she explained why she was getting involved in a worldwide campaign against homelessness. The Oscar winner said she had no hesitation in joining fellow actor Will Smith in backing The World’s Big Sleep Out which aims to raise $50 million (£40.2 million) to tackle the problem. She said she “jumped on board” when asked to read a bedtime story to about 2,000 volunteers who will sleep rough for a night in Trafalgar Square during a series of London events being staged in association with the Evening Standard.
“What is shocking to me is how a hard-working family doing their very best can be pushed into homelessness so quickly by the loss of a job when you have absolutely no financial back-up whatsoever and so many families are like that,” she said. “Certainly, when I grew up my family was like that, there was no nice comfy bank account waiting to help you through a difficult time. But I was lucky because my father didn’t get sick and didn’t have to stop his job and we survived. “It could have been very easy for us at that point to slip into homelessness. When families are living from week to week, as so many families are, then only one thing has to go wrong there and if there is no help available they are pushed into that situation”. The campaign, founded by entrepreneur Josh Littlejohn, will hold events in up to 50 locations worldwide. Participants in London will also be able to sleep out at the Oval. The Evening Standard is calling on Londoners to back the cause.
Among those taking part on December 7 are Mayor Sadiq Khan, Rhys Ifans, Cherry Healey, Lisa Snowdon and Sir Chris Hoy. Will Smith will take on Dame Helen’s role in a Times Square event in New York. Dame Helen said she had seen the problem in cities around the world but added: “I count myself as a Londoner, this is my city, my home and the increasing homelessness in my city is heartbreaking, especially when you see children sleeping on the streets.” The project started after Mr Littlejohn set up the first of his Social Bite cafes in Edinburgh and began to employ homeless people and encourage customers to pay for meals and drinks given to other homeless people in the city. The cafe gained attention when George Clooney dropped in and was soon followed by celebrity visitors including Prince Harry and Meghan.
Mr Littlejohn said the problem of homelessness was “getting worse”. He said: “It is becoming more visible, you are stepping over people in the street and I think people are angry about it. “The aspiration is to really raise the national conversation on the issue, to shine a political spotlight on it, and to try and raise a substantial sum of money for charities on the ground who are doing amazing work. It is a moment … to do something that expresses our compassion and humanity for people that are in a really desperate situation and hopefully make a positive difference.”