Second life-changing homeless centre to open in Edinburgh after funds secured

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A HOMELESS project which has transformed lives has secured funding to open a second centre in Edinburgh.

The pioneering project has been running for the past 18 years and provides accommodation for men who have been long-term homeless. There are just 12 specially built flats at the base in Leith, and what makes a difference is the residents are offered a life-long tenancy.

It’s one of the reasons why the Thorntree Street centre, run by charity Rowan Alba, has been a success story in helping people to change their lives.

And now they hope to help more people after reaching their funding target to buy a second building in the capital’s Peffermill Road which will offer nine flats to homeless men over the age of 50.

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A share offer was launched October and closed within weeks after investors from Scotland, other parts of the UK, and Europe came forward.

Helen Carlin, founder of Rowan Alba, said: “I wasn’t surprised that we reached our target but I was certainly delighted. I knew there was like-minded people out there who would want to help otherwise I don’t think I would have embarked on it,” said Ms Carlin. “I knew that people were bothered about this, but I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to reach them.

“To say I am delighted is an understatement as it means we can help more people – it will take nine more homeless people off the street. We run small units and nine might not seem a lot of people, but if those nine people happened to be your relatives – father, uncle, brother – it would make a difference to them.”

Trying to raise funds for a second site during a pandemic might have been a challenge for some, but Ms Carlin believes this past year has made people think differently about their lives and other people.

“I think people have looked at what they have and their lives differently through this and want to do something to help. We had offers ranging from £500 to £50,000. I think people have woken up to inequality through the pandemic and that people who might have thought they were living quite average lives are actually pretty lucky.”

Jerry McFarlane said his life has been changed by Rowan Alba

Jerry McFarlane says charity has saved his life

Through the Community Shares Scotland scheme, the charity under its Common Good for Homeless fundraising initiative reached the target of £650,000 with weeks to spare before their deadline. The aim is to convert the new property into supported accommodation for nine people living with addiction problems who are currently, or in danger of rough sleeping.

Although there has been a slight delay due to coronavirus restrictions, they hope to receive the keys in mid March with the hope they can welcome the first residents in the summer.

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“We will have some work to do to convert it into nine en-suite rooms. It will be slightly different from Thorntree which was purpose built with kitchen facilities,” added Ms Carlin. “However we found that wasn’t always put to use and this model with be room only with meals provided in a common area.

“We have always had a different approach at Rowan Alba and that was to offer life tenancies. The people who come to us have probably been barred from hostels and B and Bs because of their addiction, but we are more practical and pragmatic. We weren’t about trying to change people or throw them out of their accommodation because of the addiction, but to help them through it. I think people call it “trauma informed” now, but it is about allowing someone to be themselves and for us to be patient and tolerant. It can take people quite a while to adjust to the fact they won’t be thrown out. They think their behaviour might push you to react, but we aren’t going to put people out of their home.”

Helen Carlin, of Rowan Alba, said they hope to get the keys to new centre by mid March

Helen Carlin, founder of Rowan Alba

It is an approach that has changed the life of one tenant. Jerry McFarlane lived on the streets on and for 30 years. He’s been beaten and robbed and battled to survive. When he decided to seek help, he found himself being offered a place at Thorntree Street which he says saved his life.

“I was in my late 60s and still on the streets,” said Mr McFarlane, 70. “If it hadn’t been for this place I don’t think I would be here – I don’t think I could have taken much more.

“I have now got a place to stay and some stability. I have somewhere to call home and my own key. Thorntree has changed everything for me. It was certainly worth the wait, but it has changed my life.”

Ms Carlin believes there is a need for similar projects in most cities across Scotland and would be open to talking to people who might be interested in working in a similar way.

“If I had a magic wand and the money, I would look to replicate this in other cities,” added Ms Carlin. “I would love to hear from anyone interested in this to see where it could lead.”

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