Rough sleepers in Edinburgh are to be handed free portable mobile phone battery chargers, to ensure their phones are powered-up to make potentially lifesaving calls to support services.
Streetwork, the Edinburgh-based homelessness charity, said the city’s rough sleepers are 47 times more likely to be robbed than the general population and faced dangers such as assault, theft and exploitation.
The charity commissioned powerpacks – costing £5 each – which its street team will start handing out next week.
The packs are printed with vital contact telephone numbers, including Streetworks’, in case of emergency.
The initiative came after Streetwork identified a relatively high level of mobile phone ownership among rough sleepers in the city, but with no easy way of being able to charge them, when their battery power begins to run down.
The seven-member street team will distribute the cards at a range of locations including “skipper points” where rough sleepers congregate such as crypts in graveyards, doorways and alleyways.
Spent power packs can be taken into the charity’s Holyrood Hub in Holyrood Road where people can recharge them, wash their clothes, get washed and have something to eat. Alternatively street team members will collect them and return fully-charged ones for those unable to get to the centre.
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Hugh Hill, director of Streetwork, said mobile phones were a vital “lifeline” for the homeless.
“There’s nothing good about being on the street. It’s bad for your mental and physical health, it’s unsafe and your chances of assault, theft and exploitation are huge.”
“For most of us, our phone is a crucial connection to our family, friends and the outside world.
“If you’re on the street, it’s more important than that; your phone is a lifeline, security and, in some cases, it’s your only means of help.”
Mr Hill added: “Our focus is always about getting people off the streets but, where that’s not possible, we want people to be safe – which is why we’re planning to issue the portable phone chargers.
“Our street team are out every day in Edinburgh and Leith connecting with people sleeping or begging on the streets.
“In one day, in June, we spoke to 89 people begging in the city. We know people are having a tough time and we’re helping people get the right support and treatment they need. Being able to keep in touch by phone is a huge benefit.”
The initiative is part of the charity’s digital inclusion project aiming to get those who are homeless and sleeping rough or in temporary accommodation, linked to the internet.
This includes learning to use computers – the charity is about to take delivery of 14 new computers.
Founded in 1991, Streetwork’s street outreach team is regularly joined by the likes of GPs and vets, to provide practical assistance to people sleeping rough.