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Plans to install metal railings along the entrance to West Register House on Charlotte Square to keep rough sleepers out were submitted to Edinburgh City Council on March 26 after the NRS reported multiple incidents of people defecating in the alcoves, drinking on the steps and using needles.
However, the NRS did not link any anti-social behaviour back to homeless people occupying the building but did highlight incidents of rough sleepers having their sleeping bags set on fire at the property.
Critics say that barring homeless people from one of the capital’s most prestigious locations when there is no proof that they are the cause of the vandalism will not reduce incidents of anti-social behaviour but will further limit safe places rough sleepers can stay overnight.
West Register House is perceived as a “good choice” for people spending a night on Edinburgh’s streets as its ample CCTV cameras and high volume of passers-by make it an unlikely spot for trouble.
When asked about the impact the railings will have on the city’s homeless population the NRS did not respond but said their priority was protecting the building and building users.
A spokesperson for NRS said: “There has been a number of incidents of anti-social behaviour at West Register House over the course of a number of years. NRS has worked with Police Scotland during this time to manage these incidents. Our priority is the safety of building users and the protection of this listed building.”
Ex-homeless man and founder of homeless charity Steps to Hope, Richard Roncero, 37, knows how difficult finding a safe place to sleep in Edinburgh can be having slept rough around the city during his youth.
While he understands why NRS want to keep rough sleepers off their property he said there needs to be an understanding that this is often their only choice for safety.
He said: “My initial thought when I heard about the planning application was that we are limiting the safe places where homeless people can sleep even more.
“I do understand from a business point of view why nobody would want rough sleepers on their premises, but it’s important to remember that we are talking about people who have no homes and have to sleep on the street.”
“When you are living on the street it all comes down to survival and safety and people have to go where they feel least at risk.”
Critics have also voiced surprise that this project was deemed necessary during lockdown due to the limited number of people currently living on the city’s streets during the pandemic.
Edinburgh City Council confirmed that there are less than 10 people rough sleeping in the city which has led critics to question why these railings are needed.
Housing, Homelessness and Fair Work Convener councillor Kate Campbell said: “Because of the extra support and accommodation we’ve put in place with our third sector partners during the pandemic we now have, we believe, less than ten people still rough sleeping in Edinburgh.”