Thousands brave the cold for Sleep in the Park homelessness event
Around 8,000 bedded down in Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens as part of “the world’s biggest sleepout” which had raised an astonishing £3.6m before the event began.
Former Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher, Deacon Blue, Amy Macdonald and Frightened Rabbit provided the music before comedy legend John Cleese read everyone a bedtime story which he’d written specially for the occasion.
Sir Bob Geldof, who was among those sleeping out was set to address the audience.
Speaking before the gates opened at 5pm, Geldof paid tribute to Social Bite co-founder Josh Littlejohn, MBE, who organised the Sleep in the Park event.
He said: “Josh is a real force of nature, he’s just one of those guys who gets things done. He’s managed to pull things together, bringing different people together and it will be some night. There will be over 8,000 here.”
Social Bite which was launched in 2012, by Littlejohn and his partner, Alice Thompson, helps the homeless through cafés, a restaurant and fundraising events.
A quarter of Social Bite’s staff are homeless and the charity has attracted the support of Hollywood stars Leonardo DiCaprio and George Clooney.
The charity has already donated £25,000 of funds raised from the sleepout to the Bethany Christian Trust to fund extra capacity at its winter care shelter.
Littlejohn said that the famous names lent “excitement” to the occasion but people had turned up for the cause of tackling homelessness rather than as music fans.
He added: “I’m blown away by the amount of people who have turned out. “It looks like we’re going to have about 8,000 people come and sleep out which is mind-blowing really for a country like Scotland, a small country, to get behind a cause like that.
“That’s going to translate to somewhere in the region of between £3m and £4m that’s going to be raised. It’s an absolutely incredible result and I’m really humbled by it.”
He added: “This concept of sleeping in the cold is such a daunting thing in people’s mind that it trumps Liam Gallagher and it trumps anyone else, but it just helps lend that level of excitement and gets people engaged in the issue, so we’re really grateful for everyone that’s turned out to support.
“It’s looking about minus 6C so hopefully everyone comes wrapped up warm, but it’s dry and the wind is not too bad.”
Among those braving the cold weather to attend the event were Pippa and Steve Finlayson, from Kelty in Fife.
Pippa Finlayson said: “We try to do something for charity every year and the Sleep in the Park seemed like an incredible way to really put yourself in the shoes of somebody else.
“I think you’ve got to suffer a little bit when you do something for charity, so you’re putting yourself out there and doing something for somebody else. I hate the cold, so this for me was suffering.
Pippa Finlayson added: “I think the whole ethos of Social Bite is incredible, the way they run the company and I’d like to see more people start to take notice of that and try and operate in the same kind of way.”
Littlejohn said he hoped the event would lead to a structural change in homelessness in Scotland by introducing the Housing First model, following pledges that around 475 homes for homeless people will be provided across the central belt by the EdIndex Partnership and Wheatley Group.
He said: “That’s almost 500 homes in the central belt alone that have been offered and that’s going to get people out of sleeping rough, out of hostels and out of the homeless system and give something that we all take for granted, which is a stable place to call home.
“From that safe and secure base we’re going to fund a comprehensive support resource to go round those people and make sure they are supported in those homes and help get them out of that dire situation.”
He added: “That’s something that we hope will be a more broad structural response in Scotland, so our default position as a society and as local government and national government, the way we respond to homelessness is to try and get people into a mainstream stable home and provide some support around it.”
Laura McIntyre and Sarah McLaughlin had travelled through from Glasgow to support the homeless.
McIntyre said: “I’m very passionate about the homeless charities, so this is the whole reason we’re doing it, to raise awareness because a lot of people cast aspersions on homeless people, like they’re all alcoholics and drug addicts, but they’re not. They’re people who need rehabilitated and put back into society with a wee step up. So that’s why we’re doing it.”
She added: “I think Josh Littlejohn and Alice are doing an absolutely amazing job with Social Bite. They are bringing mass awareness not only to Scotland and the UK but on a global stage.
“I think it needs the awareness to really be there and that’s why I’m so passionate about it.”
Littlejohn said Social Bite had commissioned a study to look at the issue of homelessness and found that the number one indicator of how someone will become homeless wasn’t down to addiction or any other factors but was down to child poverty.
He added: “Homelessness is effectively a result of the cards you were dealt from birth. And we knew that from speaking to people.
“Everyone we spoke to had been dealt terrible cards, they had harrowing childhoods, they grew up in the care system typically and that system failed them and they became homeless in their teenage years.
“So, childhood poverty is the number one indicator and that shows it’s not about individual decision making it’s about society and structures that we create for people who don’t have a safety net like most of us do.
“We can still intervene as a society – people will be born into that situation and sometimes they will have traumatic experiences and sometimes suffer abuse
and taken into the care system.
“I think we have to take collective responsibility and structure society in a way that it doesn’t fail those people again, because they were little babies the same as me and you. It’s not right that we fail them and then call them things like ‘tramp’ when they become homeless in their teens.”
Scotland’s Deputy First Minister John Swinney, Communities Secretary Angela Constance and Housing Minister Kevin Stewart also took part in the sleepout.
Constance, said: “Along with ministerial colleagues I am delighted to be able to support Social Bite’s sleepout.
“The Scottish Government is committed to eradicating rough sleeping which is why we established our Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group, which Social Bite takes part in. We are already implementing their first recommendations to tackle rough sleeping this winter and that work now continues as we strive to end rough sleeping for good.”