Edinburgh ‘Sleep in the Park’ seeks £4m to fight homelessness

Bob Geldof offers support as 9,000 people set to sleep outside in freezing conditions

Thousands of people including Sir Bob Geldof will sleep out in freezing conditions in Scotland's capital Edinburgh tonight to raise money to tackle homelessness.

Around 9,000 people are expected to bed down for the night in Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens as part of “the world’s biggest sleepout”.

The Sleep in the Park event aims to raise £4 million (€4.55 million) to end rough sleeping and homelessness in Scotland.

Those taking part will be entertained with music from Liam Gallagher, Deacon Blue, Amy Macdonald and Frightened Rabbit.

John Cleese is supporting the event by writing and performing a bedtime story, while Sir Bob will be sleeping out and addressing the audience.

Scotland's deputy first minister John Swinney, communities secretary Angela Constance and housing minister Kevin Stewart have also signed up to take part.

The event has been organised by Josh Littlejohn, co-founder of Social Bite, which helps the homeless through cafes, 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.

Mr Littlejohn said: "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.

‘Humbled by it’

“That’s going to translate to somewhere in the region of between £3 million and £4 million that’s going to be raised. It’s an absolutely incredible result and I’m really humbled by it.”

He said the famous names lend “excitement” to the occasion but people had turned up for the cause of tackling homelessness rather than as music fans.

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 -6C (21F) so hopefully everyone comes wrapped up warm, but it’s dry and the wind is not too bad.”

Mr Littlejohn said he hoped the event would lead to a structural change in homelessness in Scotland to 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.

‘Amazing cause’

Amy Macdonald said she had no hesitation in signing up to support an “amazing cause” and hoped it would raise a lot of money.

She said: “It’s really highlighting the issue that faces so many people every single night. I think it’s brilliant, it’s been raising so much awareness.

“Everybody’s been talking about this event. It’s really different from any other charity thing that I’ve ever done or that I’ve ever seen.”

She added: “It seems absolutely ludicrous that in 2017 that people are still sleeping out on the streets. It doesn’t seem that it would be that difficult to stop. Hopefully the money goes a long way to try and help that.

“It’s just crazy in this day and age, it shouldn’t happen any more and it’s really great that there are charities like Social Bite willing to try and help, and try and make a difference.”

Queues stretched from the entrances to the gardens as thousands arrived to secure their spot.

Crowds laid out rows of sleeping bags in orange waterproof covers on top of groundsheets covering the grass.

Kirsty Neilson (39), from Edinburgh, was one of those setting up camp.

She said: “I wanted to raise awareness for homelessness in Scotland and raise a bit of money to help out with the cause.

“I’ve got a lot of thermals, a lot of layers and I’m going to try and not focus on the cold and enjoy myself.

“People do this every day so hopefully I can do it for one night.”

Tim Mineard (45), from Carnoustie, came prepared for the cold in an outfit topped off by a reindeer onesie, scarf and hat.

He said: “I think particularly at this time of year when you see people sleeping out on the streets it gives you a wee insight into what it’s like and anything you can do to help that.

“It’s a fantastic charity, it’s raising a lot of money and will hopefully make a huge difference.” – Press Association