Edinburgh Welcome Centre supports over 500 people facing homelessness this winter

Edinburgh Welcome Centre supports over 500 people facing homelessness this winter

A Bethany Link Worker supporting one of the Welcome Centre’s guests

The City of Edinburgh Council and national homelessness charity Bethany Christian Trust are operating a Welcome Centre this winter to provide accommodation of last resort, tailored support and positive move on options for people who would otherwise be sleeping on the streets.

Since opening in October, the Welcome Centre has already supported and accommodated over 500 people and will continue to operate over Christmas until May 2023.

Founded by Bethany Christian Trust in partnership with the council, and supported by the Scottish Government, the Welcome Centre was pioneered in 2020 in an emergency response to the outbreak of Covid-19, providing en-suite rooms as a deliberate move away from congregate shelter provision, and has since helped to establish a new model of tailored support for people rough sleeping.

The Welcome Centre takes an innovative and person-centred approach, providing 24-hour tailored support for individuals all in one place. Guests receive their own en-suite room and 3 meals a day, including a hot evening meal prepared by volunteers. Crucially they are also able to work with dedicated staff and visiting professional services with support to access longer-term accommodation as well as on-site assistance with mental health, addiction, wellbeing, health needs and accessing benefits.

Councillor Jane Meagher, the council’s convener of housing, homelessness and fair work, said: “When temperatures drop to this extent it’s more important than ever that we do all that we can to support anyone who may be at risk.

“With Bethany we’re operating a Welcome Centre this winter to provide an additional 65 beds for people with wrap around support, and demand for this service this winter has already been high. We’re also offering street-based outreach seven days a week through our partners to anyone we see rough sleeping and this involves checking in with people three times a night, specialist pharmacy and mental health services available on street and supporting people directly into Rapid Access Accommodation. 

“The rise in homelessness we’re witnessing in Edinburgh is deeply concerning and the council has a campaign to spread awareness of the support which exists for people who are struggling financially. We need to prevent more people from becoming homeless as far as we possibly can.”

Edinburgh Welcome Centre supports over 500 people facing homelessness this winter

A Bethany Project Worker offering a warm welcome

Commenting on the increase in demand for the service, Alasdair Bennett, chief executive at Bethany Christian Trust, said: “The Welcome Centre provides emergency en-suite accommodation of last resort for anyone who would otherwise be sleeping rough in Edinburgh. Over the last 10 weeks, we have supported and accommodated 497 different people with the majority staying less than seven nights as they are assisted to rapidly move on to more appropriate accommodation. The centre is a place of warm welcome, hospitality and intensive support, tailored to the individual and involving multiple health, housing and charitable partners to respond to individual needs. 

“We are seeing an increase in the number of people attending and being referred for this crisis intervention, even prior to the colder weather coming in, and we are working with all partners to find alternative options when there are no available bed spaces at the Centre. With a focus on rapidly re-accommodating people, new bedrooms become available at a rate of about 50 each week, or 7 a day, in order to support individuals in crisis that night.

“Even when we are full we are able to provide food, warm clothing and access to support here at the Welcome Centre, so we encourage anyone who is at risk of rough sleeping that night to come and we will do all that we can to support them, including linking them up with partner agencies and local authority housing options.” 

Relying on the financial support of the general public, local churches, trusts, businesses, the City of Edinburgh Council and the Scottish Government, the Welcome Centre shows what can be possible when the people of Edinburgh come together to create change.

With a large professional staff team, over 1,000 Bethany volunteers and more than 20 visiting partner services, the Welcome Centre saw remarkable success in 2021 – 2022 in helping people recover from the crisis of homelessness and move on to a more stable situation. The service accommodated and supported over 1,130 individuals who had fallen into homelessness because of a wide range of circumstances as well as those rough sleeping, with 97% of known outcomes positive.

Bethany’s Buy a Bed campaign, which is vital in enabling the service, is also in place again this year and gift vouchers can be purchased in Bethany Shops and online.

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