Aberdeen charity marks 50 years helping city’s rough sleepers

Sarah Igesund and Kate Loades at Aberdeen Cyrenians.

A team of volunteers and staff from an Aberdeen charity are helping rough sleepers turn their lives around.

Aberdeen Cyrenians provides a wide range of support services to vulnerable people in the Granite City and is this year celebrating its 50th anniversary.

One of the initiatives it provides is the street alternatives scheme, for people who are homeless or have no access to cooking or washing facilities.

Rough sleepers and other vulnerable people can call into the organisation’s Summer Street hub three days a week and enjoy a hot meal and drink – but the help on offer goes beyond that.

The kitchen facilites at Aberdeen Cyrenians.

Sarah Igesund, the charity’s volunteer co-ordinator, said: “We recently held an open day for potential volunteers and it was interesting that the perception of some of them was that we only provide those things that help rough sleepers in the short term, but we actually do much more.”

As part of the scheme people can also have a hot shower, do their laundry and use computers to apply for jobs and benefits.

Each session is attended by a worker who is tasked by the charity’s advice, information and support resettlement team.

The service works with Aberdeen City Council to help people into housing and support them as they make the transition to a permanent home.

Rough sleepers can also go to Cyrenians to be checked over by nurses from Marywell Health Centre and also have their hair cut by a volunteer barber.

The shower facilities at Aberdeen Cyrenians.

Those in need can also get access to clothing and food parcels. In 2017, the services provided 5,406 hot meals, 1,251 showers and 574 laundry cycles.

Ms Igesund said: “In 2016, I would say the average number of people showing up to street alternatives was around 25, now it is around 35.

“Demand is increasing and we are working hard to support service users with the help of our committed team of volunteers, who are a tremendous asset for us.”

According to the charity’s chief executive Mike Burns, getting rough sleepers into permanent housing is only half the battle.

He said: “Putting a roof over someone’s head is a step in the right direction and we work with partners such as the council very closely to achieve that.

“However, some people will struggle in that setting without a support network and without access to benefits, employment or a social life. That is why the services we provide are so important, providing people with social contact.”

Sarah Igesund, Volunteer Coordinator, in the laundry room at Aberdeen Cyrenians.

Every Thursday, the charity runs a music therapy service, where people can go along and sing songs while a volunteer plays the piano.

Ms Igesund said: “We have people coming up to us telling us how amazing it is – that they came alive because of the music and the company.

“It’s great that we’re able to bring some joy to people’s lives as a community.”

She added: “One important aspect is that people are coming to a place where they are with other people who have been through the same things as them, so they feel supported.”

December saw the start of another Cyrenians’ initiative called the assertive outreach scheme, funded by the Scottish Government.

Staff go out on to the streets and speak to rough sleepers, providing them with food, blankets and clothing.

Mr Burns said: “It has got off to a very positive start and the feedback has been positive.

Across the board, there is more demand for our services, particularly because of the reform of the benefit system and the introduction of Universal Credit.”

Ms Igesund said Cyrenians would like to open the street alternatives scheme five days a week and, while they do have enough volunteers, funding is an issue. To mark the organisation’s 50th birthday, Cyrenians is holding a sleep out – encouraging people to sleep outside overnight on March 9 at ASDA Bridge of Dee to experience what it is like to be a rough sleeper.

More events, including a fun day and a civic reception, will follow later this year.

Visit aberdeen-cyrenians.com to find out how you can support the charity.