ORGANISERS of Edinburgh’s inaugural Sleep in the Park have hailed the event as a game-changer in efforts to tackle homelessness.
More than 8,000 fundraisers braved temperatures of -5C in Princes Street Gardens for the world’s biggest sleepout on Saturday.
Donations raised in the star-studded event – with performances from Liam Gallagher and Deacon Blue – have already topped £3.6 million.
Josh Littlejohn, MBE, Social Bite co-founder and event organiser, said: “Tonight was the night when people from all walks of life came together in Scotland, to stick up for the most vulnerable people among us.
“This is the night that we collectively gave a voice to the people who have never had one. There are 11,000 homeless households in Scotland. When I think about all of the amazing different people, sleeping in this garden tonight, the one thing that strikes me about these statistics of homelessness is that they are not insurmountable.
“Scotland is a small enough country, a compassionate enough country and a collaborative enough country, where nobody has to be homeless here. If we put our heads together, we can wipe out homelessness in five years. It is not a question of resource; it is simply a question of focus. And what the participants have all done tonight, by giving up their beds, is put a razor-sharp focus on the issue.
“I would like to thank all of the participants for creating this movement.”
Mr Littlejohn also thanked Clydesdale Bank for a donation of $500,000, as well as EdIndex and Wheatley Group for offering nearly 500 homes to rough sleepers and homeless people.
He added: “We won’t end homelessness after one night, but we have made one giant leap towards that goal. And that is the victory of everyone who took part.”
Participants each raised a minimum of £100 each to attend the night in the Social Bite-organised event.
Started as a sandwich shop on Rose Street in Edinburgh in August 2012, Social Bite has now grown to five shops in Scotland.
The social enterprise also operates two large staff canteens in the Capital, a central production kitchen in Livingston and one of the country’s leading independent corporate catering businesses.
One in four of Social Bite’s staff are homeless and the charity has received visits from Hollywood superstars Leonardo DiCaprio and George Clooney.
The enterprise is also now the largest distributer of free fresh food to homeless in the UK, giving out more than 100,000 items of food and hot drinks per year.
Joining Gallagher in performing busking sets on stage before the big sleepout on Saturday were Amy Macdonald and Frightened Rabbit.
Comedy great John Cleese told a bedtime story to the sleepers, who also heard from Rob Brydon, Sir Chris Hoy and Sir Bob Geldof.
Former Oasis frontman Gallagher appeared to be touched by the crowd’s efforts.
“He said it’s a good cause and wished us Merry Christmas,” said a source.
The Wonderwall singer later took to social media to thank the Capital for its warm welcome as temperatures plunged.
“Edinburgh you are mega had a top time lovely city seen bits that I didn’t know existed don’t go changing as you were LG x” he tweeted.
Not everyone was impressed, however, as controversial commentator Katie Hopkins sparked outrage by dismissing the event as tokenism.
“Please don’t sleep one night on the street in support of the homeless,” tweeted the former Sun columnist. “Ask a homeless lady or gent what they’d really love, and get it for them. If you need to pretend to be something, take up acting. #SleepInThePark”
It prompted a predictably furious backlash from fellow Twitter users. Sharon McKay said: “Each person donated £100 to social bite to help homeless, what have you donated!”
Gail MacLeod tweeted: “Nobody can do anything without you saying it’s wrong. My friend done this last week and £48000 was raised for the homeless so wind your neck in!”
Souvina said: “No one claimed to come close to what homelessness is like after one night in the park. That aside fundraising just under £4m should help a bit, unlike many of the ones who point the finger from their cosy homes.”
And Caroline Hearst added: “It enhances empathy. Having the experience so you know what it feels like.”
Fundraising will be open until Christmas Eve and donations can be made online at www.sleepinthepark.co.uk