The Bethany Christian Trust’s Buy a Bed scheme is an opportunity to sponsor a bed in a winter care shelter for a rough-sleeper for £21, which is something to consider when two homeless people die every day, writes Ian Murray.
I haven’t yet seen a Christmas tree up in a window despite being all over Edinburgh South campaigning in the last few weeks, but the famous TV Christmas adverts have been launched, the irritating music is in the supermarkets, and I’ve received my first Christmas card.
For most, it’s a wonderful time of year and I particularly like the chance to down tools for a couple of days to catch up properly with friends and family. But it’s not like that for everyone.
I was delighted to be invited to the Bethany Christian Trust shop this week to help publicise its Buy a Bed campaign.
Bethany is giving customers the opportunity to sponsor a bed at the winter care shelter for someone who is homeless and who would otherwise be forced to sleep outside.
The gift vouchers are £21, which is equivalent to the cost of providing a person, who would otherwise be sleeping rough and be homeless on the streets this Christmas, with an overnight stay in the Edinburgh Care Shelter.
A warm bed to sleep in is something we all take for granted. This initiative not only gets Edinburgh’s homeless people out of the winter weather, but also provides care and support for professional staff who can advise on social security and council support. They can also set the wheels in motion to get individuals out of the crisis of homelessness and into permanent and sustainable accommodation. A warm meal and breakfast can often be a lifesaver.
An ethical present
It’s great for those who donate too. In return, you get a voucher that you can gift to your friends or family members explaining that someone has been given a bed for the night thanks to the purchase of this ethical present.
In Scotland, around 5,500 people sleep rough each year. That’s the equivalent of 700 individual people on any given night. Housing charity Shelter estimates that a person or family becomes homeless in Scotland every 18 minutes of every day. Shockingly, two people die every day while homeless. That statistic should be sobering to everyone. Only this week, a man tragically died after being found in a Glasgow car park on one of the coldest nights of the year.
Of course, homelessness and rough sleeping are not the same thing, but they are inextricably linked.
The previous Labour government introduced world-leading legislation to eradicate rough sleeping and homelessness, but progress has now stalled and in most cases the progress made has been reversed. A combination of severe austerity and eye-watering cuts to local council budgets have made it nearly impossible to ensure everyone has somewhere they can call home.
Paralysed by constitutional politics
Simple changes like preventing winter evictions and properly funding support services would certainly help. The charity sector does a fabulous job and organisations like the Cyrenians and the Social Bite village are innovating to assist. But the answer to this crisis is a political solution.
The frustrating thing is that our politics is paralysed by constitutional wrangling. Our narrative has been dominated by Brexit for too long and every discussion in Scotland leads to a debate about independence. The best way to deal with these serious social issues is to have the political space to debate them and the prosperity to fund the local services required.
If there were to be a divisive second independence referendum, that would require months – if not years – of endless constitutional debate, at the expense of other policy areas. I hope, once that this election campaign is over, we can instead start concentrating more on issues such as poverty, homelessness and how we save our planet.
In the meantime, there are lots of charitable campaigns at this time of year. It’s not possible to support them all but, if you can, give what you can to help those less fortunate and let’s try and end rough sleeping forever. That would be a good New Year’s resolution that we should all keep.
Ian Murray is the Labour candidate for Edinburgh South.