The co-founder of an Edinburgh charity that will see its work culminate in this weekend’s World’s Big Sleep Out campaign to house homeless people says this is the last year he will run the event as it is now up to local authorities to take up the baton.
Praising the Scottish Government and local authorities for their response to the movement’s innovative policies to end the use of bed and breakfasts and hostels, Josh Littlejohn stressed the urgency of the crisis facing those sleeping rough on Scotland’s streets and in temporary accommodation.
This Saturday hundreds of thousands of people in 52 cities worldwide, including Edinburgh, London, New York and New Delhi, will sleep rough for the night, aiming to raise £50 million for charities working with homeless people.
Celebrities taking part include Will Smith, Seth Green, Sir Chris Hoy, Travis and Dame Helen Mirren, who will be read a bedtime story.
Speaking as he was about to leave for New York to join the World’s Big Sleep Out in New York’s Times Square, Mr Littlejohn said: “The Sleep Outs were never intended to be an annual thing, they were only meant to be small scale. Now we’ve seen it grow to a mass participation movement, campaigning and collaboration.
“We tilted the door open and people slammed it open. It blindsided me in a great way.”
Mr Littlejohn said the Sleep Out movement owed its success to chance and the compassion of ordinary people, especially Scots.
“I have found so much has been due to serendipity,” he said. “I have faith in the providence which has been helping us. I went to New York to try to get a venue and thought it would be completely impossible. Through the Global Scots network I made contact with Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. I’d rocked up there with a video of what had happened at the Edinburgh Sleep Out and suddenly it was a case of ‘this is brilliant, we must do something in New York ... that’s how it happened.”
The massive worldwide movement began in Edinburgh after Mr Littlejohn, 33, who along with his friend Alice Thompson were running the Social Bite sandwich shop on Rose Street, befriended Pete, a homeless man they later employed.
Conversations with him inspired the first Sleep Out in 2016 for 300 business leaders, followed by 8,000 people taking part in Sleep in the Park in 2017 growing to 10,000 last year. Mr Littlejohn, who will be joined in the Times Square Sleep Out by his parents Heather and Simon, as well as brother Jack, said: “It’s good that events are falling a few days before the general election as it allows people the chance to express their desire in a meaningful way that they want this addressed politically.”