StreetCare Edinburgh: fond farewells and silver linings

December 16, 2021

At the end of this year the decision was taken to wrap up our StreetCare Edinburgh volunteer project (StreetCare in Glasgow is still open, operational and very much needed). Here we hand over to Mary Mackay, Edinburgh’s StreetCare Volunteer Coordinator, as she gives us some Edinburgh StreetCare history and explains why the decision was taken to close the project.

“StreetCare started operating in Edinburgh towards the end of 2017, and sadly at that time the numbers of people sleeping rough were increasing and most weeks we would see new faces.

The first night my daughter Karen and I turned up at the Humanist Society Scotland office as volunteers, I’ll never forget seeing the boardroom table piled high with a wide assortment of warm clothing – it was like a giant jumble sale! This was the second week of StreetCare operating in Edinburgh, and there seemed to be loads of volunteers looking baffled at where to start. Each volunteer picked out a  selection of clothing and packed them into one of the large holdalls, and off we all went in two teams. That first night our team must have seen at least twenty people sitting begging on the streets, we would each rummage  in our holdall giving out jackets, sweaters, scarves, and socks while chatting to the person and finding out if they had somewhere to sleep that night. To our surprise many of them preferred to sleep in a doorway or a graveyard rather than go to a night shelter.

The following week the table was again piled high with clothes, so the next morning I rang and asked the CEO if I could come in and organise the clothes, and that was the start of us being better organised.

Mary Mackay on her StreetCare Edinburgh rounds
Mary Mackay

Over the weeks and  months we got to know many of our the people on our rounds. As well as our regulars there would always be a few new faces. Sadly after a few months many of the new faces  would fall  into the many pitfalls rough sleepers face. One of the worst things that happens is they are preyed upon by ruthless drug dealers – we have been told by several rough sleepers that they are offered a “free sample”  at least six times a day. It’s understandable that the offer of oblivion is very tempting to someone living in fear during the night on the streets. Fortunately some manage to resist the temptation of drugs, but then there is the temptation of alcohol.

Everyone living on the streets has a story to tell – broken relationships, lost jobs and homes, teenagers thrown out of the family home. Sadly many people living on the streets have mental health issues, and in a few instances ex-servicemen on the streets have serious mental health issues for which they often refuse to accept any help or support.

At the beginning of the pandemic Edinburgh Council worked quickly to find accommodation for those without homes.  This was possibly the one and only silver lining as a result of lockdown. Not only did Edinburgh Council spring into action, but dozens of groups and other organisations decided to help the city’s homeless. Unfortunately because the Humanist Society Scotland office is in a shared building  it was immediately closed when lockdown was announced, and we were unable to operate (all our clothing stock and equipment is kept in the office and that is where we operated from).

A few weeks ago six of us (all experienced StreetCare volunteers) went out to assess the situation. We were in two teams and we followed our regular routes. We only saw a few people sleeping rough, and as we chatted to them to find out how they were managing we discovered they are now almost spoiled for choice as there are so many groups and places providing food, exactly the same for clothing.

We spent time letting the people we saw know about about an excellent new app that gives all sorts of very useful information and advice for people without homes. Our only reservation was that the app requires a mobile with smartphone capabilities, limiting the app’s usefulness for those with basic mobile phone models.

Taking everything into account we  came to the conclusion that the support we had been offering to people without homes was adequately covered through other agencies. Nothing stays the same in this world and lockdown actually increased the help and support for people living on the streets.”

Thank you Mary, and all the Edinburgh volunteers who have worked tirelessly over the years to make life easier for those they met on their rounds. 

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