A FORMER chef made homeless in Edinburgh following a battle with epilepsy is backing a campaign to help fund a programme aimed at getting people off the streets ahead of the cold winter months.
Paul Stoddart-Gournay said he “lost everything” after experiencing issues with alcohol when his condition forced him to stop working, but now says he “owes his life” to the charity which helped him get back on his feet.
Paul spent 26 nights at the Winter Care Shelter, an emergency accommodation project run by homelessness charity Bethany Christian Trust last winter and has now urged others to contribute to the initiative this year after crediting it for turning his life around.
He said: “Some years ago, epilepsy stopped me from working as I could no longer drive or work safely without close supervision. Bored, depressed, frightened and frustrated I sought solace in alcohol but that only made things worse.
“It was a vicious circle. I stopped regularly taking my medication and bit by bit I lost almost everything, including the roof over my head.”
Paul added: “The street is a rough place to be. It’s hard to keep everything together.”
Today, Paul is living at Bethany Christian Centre, a specialised addiction recovery project for homeless men run by the charity.
He recalled: “I don’t remember how I found my way to the Bethany Christian Trust Winter Care Shelter but I’m really glad I did as it has changed my life. The shelter is the reason that I’m sitting here today.
“I really felt a sense of being valued when I stayed at the Care Shelter.”
Started in Edinburgh in 1996 with a two-week pilot over Christmas, the Care Shelter has grown over the years to span seven and a half months over the winter, from September until May.
The service is run by a small team of staff and relies on around 1,000 volunteers from churches across the Lothians. They provide church venues for people who are homeless to sleep in on a nightly rota basis as well as providing and serving a hot meal.
The service is funded by the voluntary donations of trusts and foundations, individuals and communities, as well as receiving funds from Bethany’s Buy a Bed campaign, which asks supporters to purchase a gift to fund a bed at the Winter Care Shelter.
For every £21 voucher purchased, the Edinburgh Care Shelter provides a person who would otherwise be sleeping rough a safe and warm overnight shelter, care and support from professional staff, access to freshly prepared meals, and individual support to move out of the crisis of homelessness.
Paul said: “I owe Bethany my life. Without the Care Shelter and Bethany Christian Centre I would most likely be dead by now.”
He added: “In 2019 I will be looking for a house of my own and am looking forward to the future for the first time in a long time.”