'Innovative' rough sleeper shelter hailed at Holyrood

By agency reporter
May 15, 2019

People who run an “innovative” emergency care shelter for up to 75 rough sleepers have been recognised in the Scottish Parliament.

Cross-party MSPs have praised the project at the Diadem building in Edinburgh, which was formally Stenhouse St Aidan’s Parish Church.

Eighteen politicians have signed a motion lodged by Conservative Miles Briggs, who represents the Lothians. He said he was “extremely impressed” that people from around 70 churches volunteer at the shelter, which is run by Bethany Christian Trust to support people more accustomed to sleeping in doorways and graveyards.

Kirk community outreach worker Michael McMullin said the motion gave him “hope” that homelessness is being taken seriously and not treated like an “embarassing elephant in the room”

Gorgie, Dalry, Stenhouse Church spent £220,000 refurbishing the building, which includes a new extension to house a toilet block and showers for men.

The wooden pews in the red brick sanctuary have been removed and replaced with single beds with colourful linens and blankets.

The vestry and small rooms within the building - still owned by the Kirk – have been converted into toilet and shower facilities for women, whose sleeping quarters are in a separate area of the sanctuary.

Mr Briggs said: “I very much welcome the partnership working between Gorgie, Dalry and Stenhouse Church and Bethany Christian Trust, which has resulted in the conversion of a former church into an excellent new facility for rough sleepers in the city.

“I am extremely impressed that so many individuals have already been helped at the Diadem shelter and I wish all involved every success as they seek to make the pilot a permanent feature from this autumn. I am pleased that I was able to ask MSPs from across Scotland to recognise the fantastic efforts of so many in Edinburgh who have played a part in setting up Diadem or who currently volunteer there. It is an innovative project."

The emergency accommodation project moved to Diadem on December 21 last year on a trial basis. A secondhand clothes bank, which also provides new underwear and sanitary products, is available and a light breakfast is served in the morning. An average of 60 people, many of whom are ferried there by minibus, use the facility each night.

The Care Shelter began in Edinburgh as a two-week pilot in 1996 and has grown to 32 weeks, covering the coldest months of the year. Up until now the project rotated round different church venues in Edinburgh and guests slept on mats on the floor.

Diadem building manager, David MacLennan, said he hoped that the project, which closed for the summer on 5 May, will return to Diadem in mid-September.

“I never imagined that what we as a local church envisioned, in association with Bethany Christian Trust, for an empty church building would receive recognition and cross-party support from the Scottish Parliament,” he added. It is amazing and as a church we praise and thank God."

Mr McMullin, who works for Gorgie, Dalry, Stenhouse Church, has experienced homelessness himself. He said: “Hearing of this recognition from across the political spectrum makes one feel that there is hope. Hope that those in positions of power are recognising more fully the scale of the issue. Hope that this will help lead to practical help and action. I am happy that there is an acknowledgement that this has been an effort from many groups and individuals.”

Cameron Black, director of crisis intervention at Bethany Christian Trust, said the charity is "incredibly grateful" for the refurbishment of Diadem. "We are using this excellent space to help save lives and treat people with dignity and respect," he added. "Our professional staff team are joined by over 1,000 volunteers from local churches cooking a hot, two-course meal, as well as a prescribing GP, a practice nurse, Community Psychiatric Nurse and other charities giving housing support and advice, employment opportunities and help to move on from addictions. We all work together to make people’s stays as effective as possible and to help people move on to longer-term accommodation."

* Church of Scotland http://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/home

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