Business comment: Putting the wellbeing of the homeless at the fore

Over the past four months, like many people, I have experienced some of the most challenging times in my career.
Lorraine McGrath is chief executive of Simon Community Scotland: www.simonscotland.orgLorraine McGrath is chief executive of Simon Community Scotland:
Lorraine McGrath is chief executive of Simon Community Scotland:

But while this has been devastating in so many ways for so many people, it has also created a unique opportunity to prove that rough sleeping can be ended in our cities and it is possible to create and support positive change in the lives of the people we support.

At Simon Community Scotland, as Scotland’s largest provider of homeless services, we have always believed this was possible. Ironically, Covid-19 has created an opportunity to provide solutions for people facing homelessness to find safety, stability and recovery, often for the first time in years. The impact of the pandemic has meant many people being more able to accept our support, and importantly, been able to find new ways to thrive. But we needed to able to provide the right opportunities and that involves a multitude of partners.

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With the Covid-19 wave about to hit, we worked closely with our partners including Scottish Government and local authorities in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Within 72 hours we had a plan to keep people safe and by Monday 23 March, the day of the start of lockdown, we were already providing accommodation to those who needed it most. Over the last four months, together with our partners, staff and volunteers, we have helped over 2,500 individuals as a result of this quick action. We are recognising these collaborative achievements through a social media campaign, #LockdownLegends.

The support from our partners like Scottish Government, local authorities, corporate donors and individuals through our first ever crowdfunding campaign, #GiveHope has been crucial. In the last four months our partners, 221 staff and 164 volunteers have helped around 1,000 people in Glasgow and Edinburgh avoid sleeping rough on our streets. We have also provided over 156,000 meals.

The individuals we have helped range in age from 16 to 84. People need our support for many reasons. These reasons could affect any of us at any time, from job losses, financial or mental health issues to relationship breakdowns and domestic abuse.

While accommodation and food are important, we have never just wanted to simply provide meals or a roof over someone’s head. Anyone experiencing rough sleeping needs much more than that to recover and rebuild their life. That’s why our partners being able to provide immediate access to a wide range of health and wellbeing support has been so vital in not just keeping people safe, but also creating moments of real change for the better.

We now know what a better system looks like in tackling homelessness. But it cannot stop here. We need everyone to remember that whilst we may no longer have large numbers of people visibly sleeping on our city’s streets, the risk has not gone away. In fact the economic impact of lockdown is likely to drive even more people into poverty and the risk of rough sleeping. We are already seeing increases in those seeking help, many of whom would have no choice but to sleep rough if it were not for the emergency resources that have been put in place.

More people than ever are in temporary accommodation. Without continued priority and continued support from the public and both local and national government, many more new people will face having no choice but to sleep rough on our streets or put themselves at massive risk in other ways. But the risk of homelessness in our cities extends way beyond lockdown.

We still need individuals with time, energy and resources and we still need organisations, large and small, with expertise and funds to channel their compassion and support to prevent homelessness. With this support and political drive, we can prevent rough sleeping on our city streets and all forms of homelessness forever.

- Lorraine McGrath is chief executive of Simon Community Scotland. If you would like to find out more, please see or if you would like to #GiveHope click

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