Today a pop star, a politician and people with lived experience of homelessness and the issues which can lead to homelessness will gather at Queen Margaret University for a very special reason: to mark the 50th anniversary of the work of Cyrenians; 50 years of working to stop homelessness and supporting people.
The pop star is Ricky Ross, lead singer of Deacon Blue. Never shy of speaking his mind nor of dealing with tough issues, his song Of Gods and Dogs views the experience of homelessness through the eyes of a dog; the idea begin for some people, their exclusion from society is so extreme the only people who could love them are Gods and Dogs. At today’s event Ricky will explore his views on the plight of the excluded and on his role and responsibilities as a person with a public voice and he’ll sing a couple of songs – hopefully one of them will be Of Gods and Dogs
Minister of Housing Kevin Stewart MSP will bring the political voice and he gets to cut the anniversary cake. Apparently he’s being cutting a few 50th cakes recently as it’s the milestone he’s hit this year. He has been very supportive of the work of the Scottish Governments Homelessness and Rough Sleepers Action Group whose work has put the challenge of homelessness front and centre on the political agenda
These two will add something special to today’s event, as will the words of Professor Petra Wend of Queen Margaret University, which is hosting the day as part of its partnership with Cyrenians, a partnership built on the commitment of both organisations to social justice.
What will be really powerful will be the words of those whose names are not public knowledge and whose lives are not the usual definitions of success. Using interviews, video and storytelling we will give a platform to people with lived experience not only of the visible end of homelessness but also people who, had a shared journey with Cyrenians not have happened, homelessness might have been the outcome. It is their stories which are the lifeblood of what Cyrenians does. Like Bob and Andy, two men who grapple with mental health challenges which mean they find themselves socially isolated. The met through Cyrenians community garden which is in the grounds of Midlothian Community Hospital. Through working together in the garden they struck up a friendship which both now say sustains them in ways they had not previously know. As Bob says; “We are not good at getting on with people – but I discovered I could get on with Andy. Now we do lots of things neither of us could ever do our own”
Or Alex, who has spent much of his adult life in and out of prison. Given a huge Community Payback Order he ended up at Cyrenians Walled Garden in Falkirk. He enjoyed it so much he’s started volunteering at the garden even through his payback order is finished – he’d never finished one before.
He’s not been in jail for three years – the longest period since he was 18 and he’s in his mid-50s. He says “Here I get treated as a person, not a problem. The staff understand because some have been where I have been. To see them working even though they were once like me gives me hope.
There will be cake and songs today but most of all there will be stories of 50 years of journeys from tough realities to places of hope. Cyrenians believe no-one chooses to be homeless; they end up there because life happens. Cyrenians journey with those to whom “life has happened” because we know it’s what we would want others to do for us. Always values-led, our work is built on the power of trusted relationships which is the place where the deepest healing and the greatest human flourishing begins and is nurtured.
Ewan Aitken is CEO of Cyrenians