DOWN AND OUT IN EDINBURGH AND GLASGOW
Many homeless people spendthernghtﬂeephu; rough. Ness Raison nieetssornetifthe everincr‘ashu; numbers of the so-called “down and out‘.
Looking for homeless people sleeping rough is a perverse way of experiencing the fear. loneliness and discomfort of this enforced nocturnal wandering. Restaurants gleam with food adverts and welcoming lights. while for those without shelter. cups of tea are expensive. food a luxury and there is nowhere warm to sit. let alone sleep. l-‘ew people are immediately evident sleeping out in Glasgow. and the night policemen. when asked where he comes across them replies. ‘You don't get many dossers around any more.‘
This is a myth: normal people are sleeping out in parks. graveyards and
Buddy - Glasgow Bus Station
disused buildings all over Scotland. The last count frotn The Edinburgh Homeless Survey (a report cornissioned by Edinburgh District (‘ouncil and l.othian Regional (‘ouncil Social Work Department and co-ordinated by Noel Dolan and Jill Kerr) stated that four thousand people in Scotland's capital are homeless. that is. staying with relations. friends. in hostels or sleeping rough.
Buddy sleeps in his usual spot at the bus station in Glasgow. under a thin blanket on a hard bench. l lis socks hang in a plastic bag from a hook on the wall. and he has a KitKat in his shoe. He has been drinking and embarks on a religious dispute and a tirade against the ('hurch of Scotland hostel where they charge £1 for a blanket and against people who bring round free soup. seeing charity as an inroad on his dignity.
Willy. ()7. has been homeless since 1904 and has no family. An ex-naval man. he has travelled to (‘hina and Japan. and now spends his nights in St Andrew's Square bus station. Edinburgh. before moving on to Waverley Station when the waiting
Willy— Edinburgh Bus Station
room opens at 3am.
It is a relief when the cold. dark night gives way to daylight. warmer conditions and cafes and day centres where rest is possible. The Mission. Salisbury View in Edinburgh provides a free pie and cup of tea at 7am. As many as sixty people will arrive for breakfast. There is also a night shelter there with ten beds. three toilets and a shower.
HUGl l stays there permanently. He has been offered a council flat. but has refused. feeling that the single homeless receive the worst housing stock: ‘Take Wester Hailes. We don’t want it. We‘re just as well where we are . . . as we are. in a rough and raw place.‘
The Mission is a voluntary organisation run by the church. ()ne breakfast visitor. who used to be a miner. jokes about his attitude to this: ‘I even used to go to the Mission with my Bible on a Sunday — hypocrite. . . lshook hands with all the congregation!’
He continues with the synopsis of his life: ‘I left school at 1-1 and spent 21 years with the coal board . . . [was a rebel in the pit and had a three year detention. I worked in London as a porter. at the Festival Hall and in the House of Commons. I went back to the pit in ‘32 and later got made redundant and did my last five years in England. . . .Theonlytime they understand you in England is when you‘re in the pub and they're wanting a pint.‘ He now lives in a hotel on £33 a week. ‘I think people lived better then.‘
Seeing some of the places people sleep. lends weight to his opinion. In the chill stark National Car Park by Edinburgh (‘astle two figures lie on cardboard boxes. covered with a blanket. ()ne sleeps. but George. greying. is talkative. He has been homeless for the past three years and when the hostels are full. he sleeps in the car park because the officials leave you in peace. Sometimes. he
says. he hopes not to wake tip in the morning.
From the midst of a heap of boxes under the arches at Edinburgh‘s ‘Justice and Peace (‘entre’ a bobble-batted head emerges. ()n the bench alongside is a distressed woman from London. which. she says. is known as the ‘cardboard city' because ofthe number of homeless people sleeping on boxes. She stays there every night in a warm sleeping bag. Her husband left her and her children were put into care and as a result she violently mistrusts the state system.
People such as these are hidden everywhere. Miriam Weideger of the Simon Community. who runs a soup kitchen at ltlpm every night in Glasgow‘s George Square. is carrying out a survey to expose the number of homeless people in Glasgow. She says that some stay in basements. but many are reluctant to reveal where they stay through fear of threat or removal. The Edinburgh Homeless Survey. taken in July 1986 (see above). from interviews with hostel dwellers. shows that 53 per cent of the men and 42.1 per cent of the women had slept rough at some point. These people are not aided by
The Housing (Homeless Persons) Act of 1978. which. for the first time. shifted responsibility for the homeless onto local authorities. With so many homeless people. only those ‘in priority need‘ (pregnant or disabled for instance). must be provided by law with at least temporary accommodation. Most single people and childless couples are excluded from help under the Act.
A report issued by the government on I () A p ril stated that there are more than 100, 000 homeless people in Britain at present — double the number in 1978.
Photographs taken by Steve
M c Taggart for International Year of Shelter for the Homeless.
2'l'he List 17-30 April