Many people are only two pay cheques away from the streets


Posted by in February's Magazine

Is the man in this photograph out shopping? Is he taking a walk? Or is he homeless? The reality is that we don’t know for sure.

On Saturday 9th December, with only a borrowed sleeping bag from my friend Sharon and an orange plastic survival bag provided by the organisers, I joined 7,999 others in Princes Street Gardens for Sleep in the Park. The atmosphere was maybe a bit like a UK music festival but without alcohol and this was one of the coldest winter nights in Edinburgh, minus 6 degrees when I left early the next morning. There are many who think spending just one night outdoors is not enough and I agree. However the purpose behind this massive fundraising project by Social Bite was an important kickstart to making a sustainable difference in Scotland.

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Josh Littlejohn, co-founder of Social Bite said in a recent BBC interview:

“By taking part in Sleep in the Park, you are joining a movement to end homelessness in Scotland for good. We are planning to work closely with The Scottish Government and other charities to create an Action Plan which will provide Housing, Rehabilitation, Job Opportunities and the Support that homeless people need to get back on their feet.” Adding. “The statistics of homelessness are not insurmountable. There are currently an estimated 11,000 homeless people in Scotland and we believe that by working together, it could be eradicated within five years,”

STV’s recent Hidden Homeless documentary was quite an eye opener for me. Every nineteen minutes a family in Scotland makes a Homeless Application and in Edinburgh alone it was reported that there were 40 homeless families in just one district of the city!

Scottish author Kerry Hudson, herself homeless as a child, pointed out the reality “that many people are only two pay cheques away from the streets.”

Homelessness is in my view the result of much bigger problems in our society. It’s a multifaceted political situation that leaves the most vulnerable at the mercy of the system. Eviction, the inability to afford private rent, a relationship breakdown, divorce, job loss or a combination of these, produces grim alternatives. The thought of families with young children making do in one room with a shared bathroom in a B&B, or a single young person sofa surfing, or sleeping on the streets with all the dangers that prevail there, these kind of conditions should not be allowed to exist in our society.

Currently there are about 40 rough sleepers in Edinburgh. I spoke with Lynne on Princes Street. Her options were either a £12 a night hostel (prices rise to £18 in the winter!) or sleeping in an alleyway on Rose Street. She made herself homeless after a relationship breakdown to ensure that her young son had safe accommodation. She would like to see some form of voucher system, which would contribute towards hostel costs and for more permanent forms of accommodation. (Thanks to Social Bite the Bethany Trust has already been donated £25,000 to expand its overnight emergency accommodation and further plans to create more permanent places are under way). Lynne is actively looking for work but with no permanent address this is very difficult for her.

Billy Kennedy, bass player with Frightened Rabbit, who along with Liam Gallagher, Deacon Blue, Amy MacDonald and many others entertained us throughout the night was in no doubt…

“Sleep in the Park was a great event to help raise money towards ending homelessness. I know it’s nothing compared to actually living on the streets but those who took part will at least have gained a real insight into what it might feel like to live rough. I applaud everyone who took part in the event and raised money for such a great cause. Homelessness is such a huge problem, not only in Scotland but throughout the whole of the UK, and we need to do as much as possible to help those in need.”

A week or so after the event I went back up Leith Walk and Princes Street with gifts for rough sleepers, A sleeping bag, leather boots, socks, rucksack and thermal underwear, all donated by Jo, a friend in Leith who, having undertaken a 500 mile charity walk, wanted to see her hiking gear given to a good cause.

Helen Carlin, Founder and CEO of Rowan Alba, was delighted to support Sleep in the Park which has done so much to publicise the national scandal that is the increasing level of homelessness in our society. She thought it “heart-warming to see so many people get behind this cause, and demonstrate that they care about their fellow Scots. Working together, we can, and will, fix this!”

For me, the night of Sleep in the Park seems an age ago, a massive attempt (and one that must succeed) to raise awareness. It demonstrated to me that by taking part and raising money, my fellow Leithers continue to be among the most generous people when it comes to supporting a worthy and very needy cause.

Thank you all. n

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