Steve Cardownie: The homeless aren’t ‘what you step over after opera’

A homeless person on Edinburgh's Royal Mile (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)
A homeless person on Edinburgh's Royal Mile (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)
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The Conservative MP, Sir George Young, once described homeless people as “what you step over when you come out of the opera”.

Well they are not, they all have a past and we should do all that we can to ensure they have a future. The council’s strategy for dealing with homelessness will be presented to the housing and economy committee this Thursday.

It will provide an update on the services that are available for people who are homeless or at the risk of homelessness over the winter period. The cold weather in Edinburgh over the weekend serves as a sharp reminder of just how vulnerable rough sleepers are.

The homelessness strategy is designed to ensure that rough-sleeping is minimised in the city, especially during the winter months, working together with partner organisations to provide a wide range of services to support people who find themselves without a roof over their heads.

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A rough-sleeping count in August last year came up with a figure of 53, all of whom were told about local services which could provide support and how to ensure they could take advantage of what was on offer, but the work continues.

If the temperature or the “feels-like” temperature drops to zero degrees Celsius or below accommodation will be offered to anyone who is homeless, even if they do not qualify for this service. Church halls will be utilised with the capacity generally reaching 45 beds.

The Bethany Christian Trust, which operates the programme, is looking to increase this figure to around 60 beds if feasible. These shelters can be accessed from 9.30pm when people will be given a hot two-course meal, a bed space and a breakfast, prior to the shelters closing at 7am.

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One of the partner agencies, Streetwork, will direct people to the Holyrood Hub where they can use the showers, laundry facilities and storage, as well as getting further advice and support if they need it. A practice nurse and a community psychiatric nurse will visit the shelters and give advice if required and Shelter will attend to provide legal advice.

Council officers from the homelessness section will also pay visits to advise people on their eligibility for services and young people can seek support from the Rock Trust and receive information regarding their “night stop” service which seeks to positively divert them from future use of the shelters. Crisis will attend to offer support services that can help get people into accommodation, advice on how to claim benefits and finding work.

Much of the support and advice has been borne out of experience and all the partner organisations are striving to end rough-sleeping or at least to mitigate its worst effects with immediate measures being put in place to make people comfortable. The goal is to make it possible for individuals to receive the kind of support that will lead to long-term solutions.