IT chiefs join homeless for a night

In London, Manchester and Glasgow, IT chiefs will spend Friday night sleeping rough to raise money for young homeless people

More than 120 IT industry executives will leave their BMWs and take to the streets this Friday, where they will sleep rough under the UK's temperamental weather for the night. It's not a result of the dot-com crash --- on Saturday morning they will roll up their sleeping bags and dig out the car keys -- but an effort to raise money for young homeless people.

Last year's event raised £250,000 and this year the organisers hope to boost that to more than £300,000 as it spreads to Glasgow and Manchester. The money raised goes directly to 50 projects run by the charity NCH, which provides support for young homeless people across the UK.

The sleepers, who include the bosses of some of the UK's most high-profile IT companies, are each asked to raise at least £2,000 for the charity. Among those signed up include Judy Gibbons, vice president of Microsoft MSN's Europe, Middle East and Africa division and Mark Reeves, vice president of RSA Security.

Byte Night founder Ken Deeks got the idea for the event in 1998 from a poster on the tube, which mentioned a deadline for the year 2000. "At that time you couldn't move in IT without seeing Y2K everywhere," said Deeks, but this particular headline was not for fixing computer bugs but for reducing youth homelessness.

"Lots of companies were spending stacks of money to meet Y2K deadline and whining about skills shortage, and here we had a bunch of guys who want the skills, but can't get a job without a home, and can't get a home without a job." And so Byte Night was born.

Deeks, who heads up the high-tech PR consultancy Kaizo, admits that the idea of high-tech executives sleeping rough for one night might strike an odd chord. "I know it's artificial, we all get on the train or in our BMWs afterwards and catch up with our families. The whole point of homelessness is the hopelessness that goes with it, and we don't have that, but we do get a taste of what's it's like to sleep rough."

Tony Benjamin, project manager solutions project at NCH, agrees that the young homeless people can find the idea of Byte Night amusing, but stresses that the effort is appreciated.

"Our young people are aware that money has to come from somewhere, and they are impressed when they see people who they feel are not connected to the life they lead in doing something for them," he said. "Partly, they find it a bit hilarious -- these people have comfy sleeping bags and food on hand so it is sanitised, but at the same time they respect the fact that they are choosing to spend the night sleeping rough rather than at home in their nice houses."

In particular, said Benjamin, the high-tech industry is an industry that many young people respect. "They see it as important, and when people like these [technology executives] show them attention it has a very positive effect for them to be included at least for a night. It is a very valuable exercise."

Benjamin said he had been worried that support would drop this year, but noted that even with the economic downturn, the event has been "very well supported".

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