Partners uniting to tackle homeless crisis at Christmas

Cyrenians outreach worker Nick Harrold.
Cyrenians outreach worker Nick Harrold.
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While you’re opening your presents and tucking into your Christmas dinner this year, spare a thought for those cold and lonely souls living on the streets with nothing to celebrate.

Research from homeless charity Crisis shows 24,000 people across Britain are facing Christmas sleeping rough.

Despite figures indicating the number of people without a roof over their head has fallen by 6 per cent in Scotland from 2012 to 2017, the homelessness issue in Edinburgh is still incredibly alarming.

Bethany Christian Trust is currently experiencing its busiest ever year at its winter Care Shelter since launching in 1996 with more than 1000 volunteers now helping to provide overnight accommodation seven days a week from September until May.

Christmas is one of the most difficult times of the year for those sleeping on the streets, with many having no one to share the festivities with to 
create special memories that live with you for years to come.

Cyrenians outreach worker Nick Harrold told the Evening News that Christmas is his busiest time of year in providing help and advice to make sure those on the streets get the best use out of support services in Edinburgh.

He said: “It does get busier over the festive period but it is getting busier throughout the year full stop now.

“Christmas is one of the most difficult times of the year emotionally for people. We live in a society that forces jollity upon you, with this expectation that you’re happy at Christmastime. But there’s people who we know who are living in gardens, sheds, tents, graveyards – it may as well not be Christmas for them.

“One of the main causes for homelessness is a family or relationship breakdown and this tends to be exacerbated around Christmas. Some are at their lowest point of their lives and I’ve got to be a reliable ear for them and be as constant as we can.”

He is clear that with the help of a multi-agency approach involving the police, city council, NHS Lothian among other partners and charities we can begin to make a bigger impact on those who are in this desperate situation.

One of those to benefit is 47-year-old Stuart who ended up homeless in the city centre in 2015. He spent two years living in Princes Street Gardens and turned to heroin, using £50 worth on a daily basis from the money he received from begging on the streets.

He said: “It was awful sat there begging and being discriminated against. People shouting ‘junkie, get a job’. I used to say ‘listen. I’m homeless. If you can find someone who is happy to employ a homeless person then I’ll work’.

“I tried to commit suicide eight times. I wanted to die. I took overdoses and tried to kill myself with smack. My life was the pits. I spent two Christmases homeless and I hated it. I never thought I’d get out of the situation and reach 40.”

Stuart was brought to the attention of the Cyrenians from the city council’s homelessness task force in November last year and the charity has since been able to help him access medical support to get him off the drugs and housing support to get a roof over his head. Just over a year later he has been clean of drugs and has been progressing well at a hostel in Bingham with the hope he can move into his own place in the New Year.

He said: “Not in a million years would I have expected to be in the position I’m in now. The Cyrenians have been brilliant. They’ve helped turn my life around. I’m proof that you can do it. I was so low and treated like something people had stepped in. But life is now a lot better and I have a future to look forward to.”

Nick added: “I think we’re lucky as we have lots of organisations who really up their game at this time of the year. Stuart is really thriving and is a complete success story. He listened to the suggestions and didn’t expect us to fix him. He let us help him fix himself.”

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”.

kieran.murray@jpimedia.co.uk