Cyrenians' 50-year fight to help homeless off city's streets

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Wednesday, 23rd May 2018, 6:00 am
Homeless outreach worker Nick Harrold talking with homeless Craig Murdison

The homeless are there for a reason. They are in a desperate situation and need support from the appropriate services to transform their lives.

Homelessness can happen to anyone, and as a city, Edinburgh is looking to stand together to combat a burning issue within the community.

Isolated cases south of the border include a salon in Bristol installing sprinklers and benches in Bournemouth featuring a metal bar across the middle to deter people from sleeping there.

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Meanwhile homeless spikes were put in place at an area outside an office block in Manchester.

However the attitude in Edinburgh reflects love, compassion and a determination to stand by the homeless and give them a second chance in life.

A range of charities and services are already established and doing what they can – none more so than the Cyrenians who have launched a new campaign as part of their celebrations to mark its 50th anniversary today.

The charity is seeking £500,000 from businesses to support their work with those sleeping rough in the Capital.

The campaign, Nobody Chooses This, is being supported by Essential Edinburgh, the Business Improvement District (BID) for Edinburgh City Centre, and the 560 businesses who make up their membership.

Standard Life Aberdeen will announce a donation of £50,000 to kick-start the campaign today. Cyrenians provides an essential service aiming to change the lives of homeless for the better. Last year the charity worked with almost 4000 people.

This includes Kurt Christie who became homeless at the age of 18 after his relationship with his mum reached breaking point. After seeking refuge with Barnardo’s for a year, Kurt then moved into the Cyrenians City Community on Ferry Road.

He has been living in the hostel since September and cannot speak high enough of how staff helped him tackle his challenges, making him a better person.

The now 20-year-old said: “Living with my mum was poisonous for me and her. I didn’t like the person I had become. I am usually chilled out but I became very aggressive.

“I called the Cyrenians and they initially said they had no room. But when I told them my circumstances and I had no time they managed to change things and made room for me.”

Key workers have played a vital role in supporting Kurt during his time at the hostel, which he shares with 13 others, and insists having someone who listens to him has been a revelation. The teenager has also set his sights on joining the army next year after completing courses in army preparation and sport and fitness.

He added: “Whether it’s family, friends or girlfriend issues – it’s great to have someone there. I have suffered so much with anxiety, stress and confidence but living here has changed me.

“I’m back at college and I feel physically and mentally better. I have learned a lot about myself and about how to live with others. Without the Cyrenians I wouldn’t be who I am today. They have helped me take steps to further my life and I’m very grateful for that.”

Nobody Chooses This will showcase how an empathetic approach and real determination to not give up on people leads to results.

Cyrenians chief executive Ewan Aitken said: “For half a century, Cyrenians have been working with people across Scotland to tackle the root causes of homelessness. For 50 years Cyrenians have journeyed with thousands of people in tough realities, helping them transform their own lives for themselves, but there is still much to do.

“In truth we hope over the next 50 years we can do what it takes to create a Scotland where Cyrenians are no longer needed; where the main causes of homelessness such as poverty, addiction, violence, stigma, mental health challenges, no longer exist. We believe that homelessness needs to be addressed by a range of services, designed by the needs of those whom we support.

“Our partnership with Essential Edinburgh, providing an innovative, assertive Outreach service is one example of how Cyrenians works; making a real difference to those living a tough reality on the streets of our Capital.”

Essential Edinburgh’s funding alongside Social Bite and Comic Relief, will help fund the Cyrenians homeless outreach project. The funding will also go to the ground-breaking project with Police Scotland.

Beginning in July 2017, it involves an officer doing daily patrols of the city centre to build relationships and give them information.

The campaign has already got off to a flying start thanks to the generosity of Standard Life Aberdeen, which has donated £50,000 to the Cyrenians.

Sandy MacDonald, head of sustainability for Standard Life Aberdeen, said: “We have donated this money so we can celebrate this 50th year of Cyrenians and have a lasting impact by helping to leave a legacy.

“It is a challenging crisis we face but charities such as the Cyrenians and Social Bite have displayed innovative ways of fighting this which are really outstanding. We at Standard Life are grateful for everything they do and we hope this money can make a real difference.”