Hugh Hill: Rough sleeping in Scotland

Hugh Hill: Rough sleeping in Scotland

Simon Community Scotland deputy CEO Hugh Hill charts the rise in rough sleeping in Scotland.

Most people think immediately of people sleeping on the streets when they think of homelessness. For some, this is their reality but in Scotland, rough sleeping is a very small tip of a much larger iceberg where many people are in temporary accommodation, a lot of that being in cheap hotel rooms, with few facilities, which can be for months and even years in some instances.

It is not just the standard of accommodation that can be harmful but the concentration of vulnerable people with complex health needs, with limited support options. Too often people encounter intimidation, violence, addiction relapse, exploitation and risk to life – not experiences we want anyone to live with, even for short periods of time. Everybody wants to change that, however, the solutions are neither simple nor easy to make happen.

Since Covid, rough sleeping numbers across our two major cities have been historically low (although in an ideal world, no-one would be rough sleeping) and that is something we should be proud of.

However as 2023 passes, we are seeing these numbers rise in both cities – this could be an anomaly or an indication of worse to come and the teams are working with our partners to respond, understand and adapt to whatever changes may occur. We have seen incredibly successful collaborations across all partnerships but the pressures are mounting, now we need to work creatively to find ways to do better with what we have in a world of reducing finance and resources.

In Edinburgh and Glasgow, our Street Teams connect with people every day looking to prevent rough sleeping and to get people somewhere safe. On average we are preventing around 70 people every week from having to spend a night on the streets. Rough sleeping is the most extreme form of homelessness where the average life expectancy is in the mid-40’s and every day is a test of endurance and survival.

For the people that remain sleeping rough, there are huge challenges. For some, they feel safer on the streets, others suffer from trauma, isolation, neglect or severe mental illness that prevents them from accepting help. There are also people that are not from the UK and the current legislation prevents councils from being able to accommodate them. For others, the streets are what they know best right now and they struggle to see an alternative that could work for them. It can be hard for us to accept that someone won’t take up an offer of accommodation rather than continue to sleep rough, but the reality is that some people can’t take that step for a range of reasons.

So whilst most of us think of home as a warm, safe space, some of the people we support find their safe place on the streets. We recognise this is their reality and our teams work hard to offer an alternative reality that can be a safe option in every respect. We always hold that hope for everyone that they come to see and be in a safer place in time.

Will we ever end rough sleeping? We’ve come close during Covid and we have definitely got better at responding to people at their point of need, but the system is now creaking under increased pressure. The bigger challenge is to drastically reduce the current numbers of people and families in unsatisfactory emergency and temporary accommodation.

What can you do to help?

There are lots of options.

  • Time – You can volunteer to join our Street Team or StreetCycles Team who work directly with people on the streets, not just people rough sleeping but people who are begging on our streets too.
  • Donate – If you are in a position to donate, your funds will help us offer hope and change lives. We’re always in need of funding for winter provisions, accommodation costs, helping people return home and supporting people out of homelessness. DONATE HERE
  • Fundraising – You could help to fundraise for any of the services we fund ourselves, including our new women’s centre in Glasgow, our Managed Alcohol Programme, our Safe in Scotland programme, our Streetreads project in Edinburgh, to our Paws for Thought project across all our services. Please email if you have ideas and would like a chat.
  • Keep a note – Of our helpline numbers. Glasgow 0800 027 7466 or Edinburgh 0808 178 2323

Numbers of People Rough Sleeping

If you walk around Glasgow and Edinburgh you’ll often see many people begging, some may be rough sleeping but the majority have some form of accommodation, though it may not be ideal. In order to support people, on the streets and off, we have a number of information sources we use to know as accurately as possible, who is out there and where they are:

  • We undertake regular multiagency street counts. We do these after pubs and clubs have closed and people are no longer begging. We plan these in advance and cover as much of the city centre and outlying areas as possible.
  • We use specific sources of intelligence including refuse collectors, traffic wardens, parks and gardens, and housing associations to share any signs of someone rough sleeping.
  • We have a network of businesses, retailers and professionals who contact us if they see or hear about someone they are concerned about.
  • Our Street Team and StreetCycles team regularly map, or search around the city looking for signs of rough sleeping.
  • We gather intelligence from people with lived and living experience and we receive information from the public through our freephone.
  • Our Street Teams have a vast experience and knowledge of homelessness in our cities and bring that into play every day in supporting people to be safe.
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