1 in 8 rough sleepers is a woman and her life expectancy is 43

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Paige is 21 years old, with bright pink hair and an impish smile. Most nights, she pitches her blue tent in a graveyard in Brighton because she feels safer lying among the dead.

She gets her own space among the graves, it’s pitch black at night and she has some respite from the usual cavalcade of drunk men offering a tenner for sexual favours. Sometimes, her boyfriend JP shares her tent; other times he’s at a hostel without her. When she is on the street during the day, she moves in a pack, staying close to at least one other woman so she’s not mistaken for a prostitute and propositioned by some guy. When she has the energy, Paige visits her little girl, but even when they’re not together, her maternal instinct to protect her seems to weigh heavily on her. She speaks often about her deteriorating mental health.

We meet Paige on a new BBC3 documentary series called Love and Drugs on the Street, the first episode of which airs tonight. As the show opens, Paige is telling the camera what a “tramp’s wash” is: it’s her best attempt at hygiene, when she grabs some baby wipes and cleans herself in a toilet cubicle or inside her sleeping bag. This, and the constant craving for drugs and warmth, is the reality of sleeping rough. Paige is often cold, wet and frightened, alone but for the graves beside her and the other homeless people nearby in their tents. It is a grim life, one where she must always be alert, always be in survival mode.

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