Night shelter helps to transform lives of Edinburgh’s homeless

Homeless people at the Care Shelter.
Homeless people at the Care Shelter.
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Walk through the city centre on any December evening and you will see people bedding down for the night with only a sleeping bag to protect against the bitter cold.

Many are just desperate for help in order to get out of the sub-zero temperatures the Capital experiences at this time of year. 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 of the volunteers helping out at the Care Shelter

One of the volunteers helping out at the Care Shelter

Bethany Christian Trust’s Care Shelter provides sleeping facilities to people who are homeless through the winter period.

The shelter began in Edinburgh in 1996 with a two-week pilot over Christmas and has since grown year on year, now providing overnight accommodation seven days a week from September until May.

The services is ran by a small team of staff relying on more than 1000 church volunteers across the Lothians.

An average of 58 people use a church shelter each night where they have access to a mattress and blankets for a comfortable sleep and a hot meal.

Charity partners are also involved so the homeless have access to services including medical and housing to help them get their lives back on track.

Ruth Longmuir, care shelter manager, told the Evening News that this year was the busiest experienced with more homeless people attending than ever before.

She said: “We help provide emergency accommodation for the struggling people on the streets for 32 weeks. This is the busiest year we’ve ever done. The demand now is huge, much more than in previous years.

“People will die on the streets, especially at this time of year. It is worrying that more and more people are coming to us for help. We help to keep them safe in winter.

“There are a lot of issues as to how people end up on the streets. The biggest is a relationship breakdown when people feel they have nowhere else to go and they’re not getting access to the help they need.

“It is amazing to see the difference that the shelter makes to people’s lives. So many volunteers and partners come together to make it a real city response to what we see on the streets.

“We’d like to thank them all for their support and to those who have bought a bed for Christmas for someone who needs it. It’s all about creating an environment that feels like a home.”

The Care Shelter is funded by the voluntary donations of trusts and foundations, individuals and communities, as well as receiving some money from Caring Christmas Trees.

The service has been a lifeline for many people over the years. This includes Constantine who turned to the care shelter with nowhere else to turn and being vulnerable to violence and abuse.

He said: “During the winter you’ve got nowhere to go so you wander the streets all day in the pouring rain. Somebody shouted ‘oh there’s a human slug - let’s see if we can get him squashed’ and dragged me into the road in my sleeping bag. If you’re sleeping there’s drunk people, youngsters around who are trying it on… Let’s have a laugh, let’s pee on him, let’s see if we can set fire to him”.

With Bethany’s help, Constantine moved into the Bethany Christian Centre and then Bethany House where he began to rebuild his life. Now Constantine is looking forward to celebrating Christmas in his own Bethany flat proving that grace can truly transform people’s lives.

“The Bethany Care Shelter saved my life. At night at the door of the church and you just know that tonight I’m going to have a warm place, it’s going to be safe, I’m going to be able to sleep.”

For more information call 0131 561 8930.

The Evening News has teamed up with Tesco, Network Rail, Hibs, Hearts, NHS Lothian and the Scottish Government this year to run our Edinburgh Cheer Christmas campaign – aiming to make the city and the Lothians the “Capital of Kindness”. Whether it’s inviting someone to lunch or donating items to your local foodbank, the campaign is designed to show how easily we can all give something back.