Appeal for sleeping bags to keep Edinburgh’s homeless warm amid wintry weather
A church minister is appealing for sleeping bags to keep homeless people in Edinburgh warm over the coming weeks, with recent cold and wet weather leading to a demand for replacements.
Reverend Peter Sutton, minister of the Parish Church of St Cuthbert at the corner of Princes Street and Lothian Road, says they have already been inundated with kind donations over the last five days since they made a public call for help.
A Met Office yellow weather warning of snow and ice has been issued for Edinburgh for Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
Mr Sutton said the church has been providing hot food on Sunday nights to about 80 or 90 people presenting as homeless in the kirkyard, with the help of volunteers from local homeless charity Steps to Hope, founded by Richard Roncero.
For a few months before the Covid pandemic hit in March, Steps to Hope also ran an emergency night shelter at the church - but this is currently closed due to the risk of virus transmission.
Mr Sutton said they have probably got enough sleeping bags to last until the end of February but said more would be greatly appreciated as the poor weather often persists through March.
He said: “If you’re given a sleeping bag you start using it and it gets wet and it’s not very easy to keep it dry, so people need another one the next week.”
Mr Sutton said he has been “humbled” by the response to the public appeal, with many dropping them off at the church and others ordering deliveries to him through Amazon.
Cat Young, who read the appeal on the church Facebook page, says her 11-year-old son Hamish Robertson, a pupil at George Heriot’s school, decided to use some of his Christmas money to pay for a sleeping bag. Both she and her sister are also donating a sleeping bag, as well as some clothes.
Pre-pandemic it is thought there were between 90 and 120 people sleeping rough each night in Edinburgh - but this has fallen dramatically to between ten and 30 people.
Mr Sutton says that, although several of those presenting as homeless are able to stay in temporary accommodation, some are unable to find suitable rooms - or are not allowed to stay there - because of linked addiction or mental health issues.
He also believes it would be helpful to extend the opening of public toilets in West Princes Street gardens by an extra two hours - from 4pm to 6pm - as the church is unable to let homeless people inside due to the Covid restrictions.
Mr Sutton said there has been a “good push” through the pandemic by Edinburgh City Council and other charities and agencies to deal with homelessness, but says various lockdown issues - such as redundancies, domestic abuse and family break-ups - mean more people can suddenly end up on the streets, and the church and Steps to Hope are there to help.
He added: “That’s why we are keen to get the emergency shelter up and running again.”
Mr Sutton says the homeless outreach work at the church was historically run from the former Victorian poorhouse, where the Caledonian Hotel is now, before it was moved to Craigleith where the Western General is now located.