CHARITIES and homeless support groups are working through the festive season and beyond to look after the unfortunate minority who find themselves on the streets of Scotland over winter.
For many it’s a season of togetherness, celebration and relaxation - but for the 28,615 people that are estimated to be homeless in Scotland between 2014 and 2015, winter brings a new set of challenges as spikes in fuel poverty or family disagreements push many into the streets.
That figure, taken from homeless charity Shelter Scotland, also includes nearly 5,000 children who will wake up homeless on December 25th - an increase of 15 per cent on the previous year.
But while the headline numbers may be bleak, organisations such as Streetwork work round the clock seven days a week to assist people they find on the streets of Edinburgh whether through homelessness, sexual exploitation or domestic abuse.
The charity’s Crisis Centre on Holyrood Road offers shower and laundry facilities, as well as storage space for belongings. Information on a host of services including benefits provision, healthcare and addiction programmes are also provided by staff in person and over the phone.
Kenny Forsyth, Chief Executive of Streetwork, said: “Last winter, more than 1000 individuals sought Streetwork’s support for potentially life-saving essentials, such as warm clothes and sleeping bags.
“The worsening weather conditions make winter a particularly challenging time for our homeless services users and so the safe haven provided by our Crisis Centre - where they can come to use basic amenities and rest from the cold - is a valuable lifeline.”
The charity’s Winter Appeal is aiming to raise £10,000 to provide practical support and resources for homeless people across the capital this winter.
As well as providing a warm and safe location to sleep, Scotland’s charities are also feeding those on the streets over winter.
The Trussell Trust, founded in 1997 after first-hand experience of the plight of children in Bulgaria, manages food banks all over Scotland.
With 14,159 users nationwide, December 2014 was the busiest month for Scottish foodbanks in the history of the Trussell Trust’s Scottish operations, with this year’s demand expected to be even higher.
Between April and September 2015, just under 5 per cent of referrals to the Trust’s foodbanks were due to homelessness, with delays in benefit provision accounting for the majority (28.9 per cent) of referrals.
Kyle McCormick, Project Manager of two foodbanks in the north-west of Glasgow, said: “The vast majority of people who come through our doors find themselves with no money at all, never mind money to buy Christmas gifts, although surely that’s the most natural instinct for parents at this time of year.
“For the first time ever, the three-course Christmas Day meal we provide for 80 people is completely booked up in advance.”
Scotland Network Manager of the Trussell Trust Ewan Gurr added: “For some individuals on low incomes, it can mean spending Christmas alone, isolated by circumstances beyond their control and without anything to eat.
“Although our figures do not capture the overall number of households experiencing food insecurity, the knowledge that even one family could go hungry this Christmas has motivated an outpouring of public generosity with the donation of over half a million meals in Scotland alone, but we also need decisive political action to ease the pressure men, women and children across Scotland continue to experience.”
Shelter Scotland have recently embarked on a campaign to raise awareness of winter homelessness by gift-wrapping a house in Edinburgh.
Graeme Brown, Director of Housing and Homelessness for the charity said: “The best local authorities in Scotland will already have measures in place through their homelessness strategies to ensure that as few people as possible sleep on the streets at any time, but especially in cold, wet and dangerous conditions.
“We urge all councils across Scotland to redouble their efforts to keep homeless people safe.”
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Donations to Streetwork’s winter appeal go towards the purchasing of resources for homeless people, as well as the everyday bills and costs involved in running of the charity’s Crisis Centre. Donations via cheque or online banking are also taken, with further information on potential volunteering opportunities and fundraising events available by emailing Gordon Watson at email@example.com.
Like Streetwork, the Trussell Trust also has a JustGiving page and ability to accept card or cheque payments allowing people to donate to foodbank funds across Scotland.
Those who wish to take a more hands-on approach to charitable deeds can enquire about both long-term and short-term volunteering opportunities at both charities. Volunteers at Trussell Trust foodbanks, for example, help to purchase, sort through and allocate food to those most in need.
Shelter Scotland also takes donations, while offering volunteers the chance to work in any of their charity shops or community projects across Scotland to help gain experience, qualifications and provide friendship and care to people in their area.
Roles range from being an online advice assistant, a lifeskills support adviser and a befriender to help improve the self-confidence and quality of life for service users.