Cold, hard facts about misery of homelessness
On Saturday night I did something I never imagined I would do. I slept outside on what was a bitterly cold December night.
I took part, along with thousands of others, in the Sleep in the Park, organised by the social enterprise Social Bite to raise awareness and funds for the work they undertake to tackle homelessness. I was joined by my cabinet colleague, the communities secretary Angela Constance, and the housing minister Kevin Stewart.
It was a night of sharp contrasts. On the Saturday evening there was a concert in Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh with great musical performances by Deacon Blue, Liam Gallagher and one of my favourite artists, Amy MacDonald. When the concert finished all 8000 people went to their sleeping bags dotted across the gardens and tried to sleep.
I went into my sleeping bag at 12.30am, saw 1.30am and 3.10am on my watch and got up at 5.15am. It was awful. There was no rain or snow but it was bitterly cold, very damp and my kit was frozen by the time I got up.
It was, of course, an utterly unreal experience for me. I was doing this in the security of an organised event.
A person who is homeless takes their chances on the streets, where they could be exposed to any amount of abuse, harassment or violence.
I was also able to pack up my stuff, go home, have a shower and warm up.
What I cannot get out of my head since Sunday morning is how tough it must be for people who are homeless to warm up or dry out if they start the day that cold and wet and have no means of getting over it.
Despite the harshness of the conditions, the event was inspiring. People from all walks of life in the private, public and third sectors, from our churches, school pupils from Perthshire, all came together to take part in this effort to raise money and awareness.
The event has raised over £3 million and awareness is a great deal higher than it was. I think that effort says something of the solidarity and empathy that exists in Scotland. We should celebrate that.
The effort to tackle homelessness is a priority for the Scottish Government and we welcome the involvement of third sector organisations like Social Bite in the combined effort to tackle the issue.
The Scottish Government has put in place a £50 million Ending Homelessness Together fund which is designed to give impetus to our work.
We have put in place more support for homeless people this winter as an immediate step in tackling the issue and the partnership with organisations like Social Bite helps enormously to advance our work.
In the concert part of the event four people who had experienced homelessness spoke. They explained that tackling homelessness is not just about finding a house but about obtaining personal support to tackle mental health, addiction, trauma, employment and family experiences.
It is vital that all of these challenges are part of our work.
Saturday was an experience I hope never to have to repeat. And I want to make sure we do all that we can to prevent it for my fellow citizens. Blairie reader Jean Oudney sent us this fantastic photo of the Old Cross in Rattray dating from the 1950s.
Today the road runs through this house in the middle and in the photo you can see the old road going past the George Hotel - now the Old Cross - and the church on the far right.
The photo was taken by Jean’s father Fred Oudney, who was a keen amateur photographer and has many amazing photos of Blair and local people from the past.
Why not send us your snaps and have your image appear as our Reader’s Picture of the Week?
You can email photographs to news@ blairgowrieadvertiser.co.uk or pop in to our office at 58 Watergate, Perth, PH1 5TF.
When your are sending your images include your name, address and contact details and a little piece of information about your photograph.
Wrapped up Workers from the Balhousie care group who took part in Sleep in the Park in Edinburgh on Saturday