December is never the best time to be outdoors. Unless you’re one of those types that enjoy “bracing” strolls, and “fresh air,” it’s generally much nicer to be curled up indoors with a good book/Netflix. 

Outside it’s grey, it’s snowing, and it’s absolutely freezing. 

Nevertheless, thousands of people have, this weekend, made the bold decision to sleep out in a park to raise awareness of the plight of Scotland’s homeless. 

More than 8,000 people donned their warmest winter wardrobes, laid out their sleeping bags, and bedded down for the night on Saturday in Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh, for the “world’s biggest sleepout.”

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Every “Sleep in the Park” participant had to raise at least £100 to join, and donations had topped £3.6 million before the event even began. 

“When I think about all of the amazing different people, sleeping in this garden tonight, the one thing that strikes me about these statistics of homelessness is that they are not insurmountable,” said organiser Josh Littlejohn, co-founder of the organisation Social Bite.

“Scotland is a small enough country, a compassionate enough country, and a collaborative enough country, where nobody has to be homeless here,” he continued. “If we put our heads together, we can wipe out homelessness in 5 years.” 

He added: “It is not a question of resource; it is simply a question of focus. And what the participants have all done tonight, by giving up their beds, is put a razor-sharp focus on the issue."

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Some £25,000 of the funds raised from the sleepout have already been donated to the Bethany Christian Trust, to fund extra capacity at its winter care shelter. 

Despite the sub-zero temperatures, musicians including Liam Gallagher, Deacon Blue, Amy Macdonald, and Frightened Rabbit all also came along, to perform for the crowd.

Actor John Cleese told a bedtime story, and Rob Brydon, Sir Chris Hoy, and Sir Bob Geldof all also made appearances.

Hoy posted a tweet on Sunday morning saying he woke up “covered in a layer of frost”, and Geldof paid tribute to Josh Littlejohn. 

“Josh is a real force of nature, he’s just one of those guys who get things done,” said Geldof. “He’s managed to pull things together, bringing different people together, and it will be some night.” 

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Littlejohn went on to praise Friday’s announcement of around 475 new homes in Scotland, that will be made available for homeless people — including 275 permanent housing association and council properties, provided through the EdIndex Partnership, according to the BBC, and a further 200 homes for rough sleepers in Glasgow and the central belt area committed by Scotland’s largest housing and care group, the Wheatley Group. 

“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,” said Littlejohn. 

He said he hoped the awareness raised by the event would help change Scotland’s structural response to homelessness “so our default position as a society and as local government and national government, the way we respond to homelessness is to try and get people into a mainstream stable home and provide some support around it.” 

Littlejohn and his partner Alice Thompson launched Social Bite in 2012, to support the homeless and formerly homeless through cafes, a restaurant, and fundraising events. 

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A quarter of Social Bite’s staff are homeless, and their cafes count Leonardo DiCaprio and George Clooney among their high-profile diners. 

Social Bite has also conducted research into the leading causes of homelessness in Scotland, and found that one of the main factors was child poverty.

“Homelessness is effectively a result of the cards you were dealt from birth,” said Littlejohn, at the event. “Everyone we spoke to had been dealt terrible cards, they had harrowing childhoods, they grew up in the care system typically and that system failed them, and they became homeless in their teenage years.” 

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“I think we have to take collective responsibility and structure society in a way that it doesn’t fail those people again,” he said. “Because they were little babies the same as me and you. It’s not right that we fail them and then call them things like ‘tramp’ when they become homeless in their teens.” 

Scotland’s Communities Secretary Angela Constance said: “The Scottish government is committed to eradicating rough sleeping, which is why we established our Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group, which Social Bite takes part in.”

She added: “We are already implementing their first recommendations to tackle rough sleeping this winter and that work now continues as we strive to end rough sleeping for good.” 

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Demand Equity

Thousands of People Slept in a Freezing Scottish Park for a Brilliant Reason

By Imogen Calderwood