The World’s Big Sleep Out kicked off in Hutt City, New Zealand on Saturday 7th December; Brisbane followed, then through Asia to Europe, including London’s Trafalgar Square; jumping across the pond to Times Square in New York before the grand finale at the iconic Rose Bowl Stadium in LA, totalling 52 cities globally.

From freezing conditions in Chicago to a heatwave in Brisbane, 60,000 participants braved all weather conditions to come together and sleep out just for one night in support of those who have no other choice. Each event provided a mixture of entertainment and opportunities for participants to reflect on the serious issue as they stood in solidarity with homeless and displaced people throughout the world and helped raise money for charities working at local and international levels.

100% of funds raised by the public will go towards homelessness charities, with the money invested to sustainably help around 1,000,000 homeless and displaced people all over the world. As well as benefiting local charities, international partners for the campaign include UNICEF USA, Malala Fund and the Institute of Global Homelessness.

The campaign, founded by Josh Littlejohn MBE, originated from a small café in Edinburgh called Social Bite which started offering employment to homeless people. The charity organised a small sleep out in 2016 with only 270 participants and the events have grown each year in Scotland, culminating in this global night of solidarity.

The number of rough sleepers in England has dramatically increased by 165% since 2010, rising at a faster pace in London compared to the rest of the country.  Elsewhere in the UK, numbers have more than doubled in Wales since 2008. Scotland – seasoned campaigners in the fight against homelessness – has still struggled with increases in rough sleeping in recent years.

Children living in temporary accommodation is rocketing across the UK. From March 2019, there were 126,020 homeless children in England – a staggering increase of 68% since 2010 and its highest level since 2007. (Source?)

Around the world, famous faces came together to support one of the largest charity campaigns in a generation. Will Smith and Dame Helen Mirren led the way by telling a bedtime story in Times Square (New York) and Trafalgar Square (London) respectively while Seth Green read in LA, Ruth Jones in Cardiff and Gregor Fisher in Edinburgh.

Incredible music performances, speeches and poems came from Travis, Rag ‘n’ Bone Man, Tom Walker, Jake Bugg, Gang of Youths and Sir Chris Hoy in London; Ziggy Marley, Ellie Goulding, Meghan Trainor  and Randy Jackson in LA; Izzy Bizu, Daniel Portman, Be Charlotte, Angie McMahon and Brian Cox in Edinburgh; The Script in Dubin; Charlotte Church in Cardiff; Frank Turner in Chicago and many more.

Other celebrities who slept out in Trafalgar Square included Matt Willis, Giovanna Fletcher, Cherry Healy, Jamelia, Anita Rani, Julie Etchingham and many more.

Senior faith leaders in Britain, including the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Westminster Cardinal Vincent Nichols and the Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis also joined forces to show their support for the campaign through an open letter.

Alongside the main flagship events, “host your own” events were held in 23 different countries including UK, US, Japan, Poland, Nigeria, Slovakia, Turkey and Zimbabwe in gardens, school playgrounds, office car parks, shopping malls and even an aircraft hanger. The bedtime story for the UK “host your own” events was provided by Holly Willoughby.

As well as private individuals, the campaign has been backed by some generous sponsors and major corporate donors including Oak Foundation, M&G, The Right to Shower / Unilever, Deloitte, Arup and Insights.

Dame Helen Mirren said: “The turnout for The World’s Big Sleep Out in Trafalgar Square and across the world tonight was a phenomenal success; it was heartwarming to see so many people come together to highlight the global issue of homelessness. I was proud to play my part by telling a bedtime story before sleeping out myself.  I hope the event has shone the political spotlight on this issue and I urge people to continue to support the campaign by visiting bigsleepout.com to donate.”

Josh Littlejohn MBE, The World’s Big Sleep Out founder said “Having worked with homeless people for the last seven years, I know first-hand how invisible and forgotten people can feel. What the incredible 60,000 people who slept out all over the world have done tonight, is to shine the spotlight on this global issue and show that we care. I am truly blown away by the response to our campaign and sincerely grateful to every single person who has given up their beds tonight to raise the funds and awareness needed to make an impact. I hope that what happened in this campaign demonstrates a clear mandate for political action to tackle the homelessness crisis to whoever ends up in government in a few days time.”

Dame Louise Casey DBE CB, Chair of The World’s Big Sleep Out Trust said “Just as the world feels, and is, so divided I’m proud that thousands of people have come together across the globe as one community united in our compassion and with empathy for our fellow human beings forced to be homeless. Thank you to everyone who has supported this campaign in any way. I am humbled and grateful. Always humanity is better when we stand together for the common good”.

This global sleep out started in New Zealand so it is fitting that I repeat a Maori quote

‘He aha te mea nui o te ao. He tangata, he tangata, he tangata’ ‘ What is the most important thing in the world? It is people, it is people, it is people’.

Social Bite

Social Bite started as a sandwich shop on Rose Street in Edinburgh in August 2012 and has now grown to a major driving force in tackling homelessness in Scotland.

One quarter of Social Bite’s staff are homeless and the charity has received visits from Hollywood superstars Leonardo DiCaprio and George Clooney.

Social Bite’s 2017 and 2018 Sleep in Park events in Scotland raised almost £8million and saw more than 18,000 people sleeping out. Video from the events can be seen at www.vimeo.com/246949595

Social Bite is the largest distributor of free fresh food to the homeless in the UK, giving out more than 100,000 items of food and hot drinks per year.

With funds raised from Sleep in the Park events, The Social Bite Village was built in May 2018 with 20 people now housed in the bespoke accommodation. The charity also launched a nationwide program to bring 830 rough sleepers of the streets into their own accommodation with support.



The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) works in more than 190 countries and territories to put children first. UNICEF has helped save more children’s lives than any other humanitarian organization by providing health care and immunizations, safe water and sanitation, nutrition, education, emergency relief and more.

UNICEF USA supports UNICEF’s work through fundraising, advocacy and education in the United States. Together, it is working toward the day when no children die from preventable causes, and every child has a safe and healthy childhood.


The Institute of Global Homelessness

The Institute of Global Homelessness (IGH) supports an emerging global movement to end street homelessness. Based in Chicago at DePaul University, IGH partners with key global cities to develop local leaders, set metrics, scale successes, and drive advocacy – all to accelerate progress in reducing and ending homelessness. IGH envisions a world where everyone has a place to call home – a home that offers security, safety, autonomy, and opportunity. Learn more about IGH’s work at www.ighomelessness.org.

Malala Fund

Malala Fund is working for a world where all girls can learn and lead. Malala Fund advocates for resources and policy changes needed to give all girls a secondary education, invests in local education leaders and amplifies the voices of girls fighting for change. Learn more at malala.org.

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