Edinburgh's homeless speak out after Sleep in the Park fundraiser
Cold, wet and lonely, the streets of Edinburgh can be an unforgiving place to live.
As thousands walk past those begging in the Capital, throwing loose change into their coffee cup, the majority presume it will be used to fuel a drug or alcohol addiction. Sometimes they are right.
But look past that, and you find a real person living on the streets, desperate for help while living in sub-zero conditions. Every one of those souls have their own story to tell as to how they ended up where they are. They’re not in this position out of choice. More than most, they’re out of options.
One week on from Sleep in the Park, the world’s biggest sleep-out, raising almost £4 million to aid Scotland’s homeless crisis, there are still hundreds living without a roof over their head in the Capital.
Willie, 33, has been homeless for four months alongside his best friend and dog Taz.
The ex-army man admitted to being close to committing suicide yesterday after a rough night of no sleep in freezing temperatures when he took shelter in someone’s back garden.
He said his situation stemmed from having his heart broken by his ex-girlfriend earlier this year which he admitted “destroyed” him.
He said: “I was in love with this girl. I thought she was the one. I got arrested after a warrant was issued for failing to attend a court hearing for a minor offence. I was in a cell for the weekend and when I got out she had got back with her ex. She broke my heart.”
Willie, who has mental health issues, was then targeted three times by burglars at his East Lothian address and he felt he’d be safer out on the streets than in his home.
He added: “I felt safer on the streets than I did in my own house which is crazy.
“Physically and mentally it is tough, especially with it being cold. I feel like a caged animal sometimes. People look at you like the scum of the earth. People judge you but they don’t know your story.
“Last night I slept in someone’s garden. It was raining and it had a wee tunnel so I just pitched down. I didn’t sleep because it was way too cold. I contemplated suicide because I was having such a bad day.
“Since being on the streets I have started doing drugs again such as heroin. It numbs you and takes away your worries for a while.
“I haven’t seen my eight-year-old boy for two years which cuts me up. I was really close to getting a couple of grams of heroin and bang. No one would know. No one would find me for ages.”
Despite his tragic situation, Willie is grateful for the generosity of the general public. In just a 15 minute interview yesterday, he had been handed a sausage roll, a pizza and loose change on Rose Street.
Willie said he feels there is light at the end of the tunnel with him eager to get a home and get to work in helping others.
He said: “I’m a positive person, with a positive attitude. People are in worse positions than me. People are on the street with children. I can walk, I can read, I’m alive.
“I also have Taz, who I love to bits. We have been through a lot and he gives me company. I have to provide for him too which gives me a purpose in life.
“My ambition is to help people in the future by using my experience in life. Get people to learn from my mistakes so something positive can come out of this.”
Craig Murdison, 42, became homeless in 2016 after getting kicked out of his Morningside flat for his addiction to butane gas. He was told to leave temporary accommodation for the same reason three months ago and has been on the cobbles ever since.
He started taking drugs in the 90s and, following the death of his mum in 2004, became reliant. Being cold and lonely is something that has hit Craig hard and he is committed to doing his all to turn his life around.
Craig said: “I got addicted to butane gas because I feel as though I need it. When I was in temporary accommodation, I didn’t do enough to access the help that was available. I would attend one appointment for help in recovery with my addiction and then just stop.
“Now I wish I had continued because I’m out in the streets alone. I go to the night shelters inside the churches across the city to go to sleep. If I’m honest, without them I would not be here today.
“All I want is to get clean and to find out who I really am. I don’t know who I am if I’m being honest.”
While families across Edinburgh tuck into their Christmas dinner with their families, the city’s homeless are reminded of the harsh reality they face.
Craig said: “I am going to Easter Road for a Christmas Dinner. I am a die hard Hibs fan but I can’t afford to get myself along to games nowadays.
“I remember we’d have family come round our house every year. It was exciting and I loved seeing my mum so happy.
“Now, Christmas is just another day to me.”