Sleep in the Park: Harrowing tales behind celebrity fundraiser

Homeless people in Edinburgh tell us their stories ahead of the charity event next month.

It is a Thursday night in Edinburgh city centre with plenty of people milling about.

Late-night shoppers clutch their purchases and others start their weekend early by heading out for dinner and drinks.

We are not out to join them, however, instead we are setting out to find those who are facing a long and cold night on the streets.

It does not take Social Bite founder Josh Littlejohn and I long to find one of the 50 or so people who sleep rough in Edinburgh every night.

Jade is sitting cross-legged outside Starbucks on George Street, covered by a grubby duvet cover and clutching a plastic cup with £2 in it.

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"I've sat here since 6 o'clock this morning," she tells us. "And this is all I've made."

She says she ended up on the streets after being thrown out of her family home for getting pregnant when she was 16.

Jade says: "I get spat on, kicked, I've been sexually assaulted, everything - just because. I get people walking past me, looking down at me.

"I just think 'you know what, they're only a step away from where I am now'."

As we weave along George Street and Princes Street we notice several others who are curled up on benches and in doorways.

At the main door of a bookshop a couple are fast asleep under a duvet, with a leather suitcase tucked in at their feet.

Dode: On the streets since he was a teenager. STV

Josh tells me they could be non-EU nationals, meaning the council does not have a statutory duty to give them emergency accommodation.

"They're people totally without safety nets, who often have been fleeing harrowing situations, fleeing war," he says.

"You get refugees who can slip through the net who end up sleeping in doorways. For anyone who comes here and ends up homeless, they're not the cause of homelessness - rather, they're other victims of it."

When we get on to Lothian Road, meet Dode. It is difficult to describe what a desperate situation he is in.

He shows us gaping wounds on his legs - infected ulcers that make it difficult to walk. He tells us he is HIV positive and suffering from bowel cancer.

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"I was on the streets when I was 14, 15, and from there on I started taking heroin," he says.

"I had a habit by the time I was 15. The pain I am in just doesn't go away.

"When I was sleeping in the graveyard, I got bitten by a rat."

He explains he struggles to get emergency accommodation because of his medical condition.

"They've not got the staff," he says. "They've not got the medical people to care for people like me who are vulnerable.

"But I've told them it doesn't matter where I go, at least it's a roof over my head.

"I will die before Christmas if I don't have a roof over my head."

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For others, finding a suitable hostel can be hampered because they have a dog.

Michael, who is in his early 20s and begging on Princes Street, tells us his Staffordshire bull terrier Piper is his best friend.

He says: "There's only a couple that actually take dogs and they're full at the moment. I've just got to keep trying."

Michael's isolation is clear in his face. He says his sister walked past him on the street the other day without speaking to him.

It is stories like these that make Josh and his team at Social Bite so determined to make a difference.

Up to 9000 people will sleep overnight in Princes Street Gardens on December 9 during Sleep in the Park, with "busking" sets from Liam Gallagher, Amy Macdonald, Deacon Blue and Frightened Rabbit.

The event, which will also be attended by John Cleese, Rob Brydon and Sir Bob Geldof, aims to raise £4m to invest in specialist housing and support for homeless people.

"It's a real movement to make homelessness a public focus and put it on the political agenda as well," Josh says.

"They've been led down this path, almost as if it was their destiny to end up there. If it was you that was dealt their card, the chances are that you'd be in the exact same situation.

"If you put them first and we make sure they're OK, then we can worry about everything else. I don't think it's beyond Scotland's collective wit to at least make significant inroads into it."

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