Homeless village opens in Edinburgh following celebrity fundraisers

Edinburgh (AFP) –


A charity backed by celebrities including George Clooney and Leonardo Di Caprio on Thursday opened a village devoted entirely to homeless people in Edinburgh.

Social Bite Village comprises 10 two-bedroom huts, each fitted with a combined lounge and kitchen, to help 20 homeless people at a time transition into mainstream housing.

The prefabricated "nest houses" have been built on Granton waterfront, with stunning views over the River Forth and a community centre for residents to socialise.

Each house is painted in a different pastel colour and surrounded by flowers, designed to bring people off the streets and into a welcoming community.

Josh Littlejohn, co-founder of Social Bite, told AFP: "At the moment if you're homeless you will either sleep rough, stay in a night shelter, or quite often you will go to a homeless hostel or bed and breakfast.

"These types of accommodation are really unsupported, marginalising, stigmatising, and they put people into a negative trajectory.

"We wanted to try to develop a different model of housing homeless people, and one that is a really beautiful community environment, one where people receive lots of support and get built up rather than marginalised."

Social Bite runs a chain of sandwich shops throughout Scotland which employs homeless people and serves food to disadvantaged people, the general public, and occasionally celebrities.

"A couple of years ago George Clooney popped in to our humble sandwich shop, which became the focus for global news for a morning, which was a bit of a mad experience," said Littlejohn.

"Then, surreally, 12 months later Leonardo Di Caprio had lunch in one of our restaurants. More recently, we had a visit from Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, which really does help the fundraising and keep the momentum going."

- Community atmosphere -

Last December, around 8,000 people slept in a freezing park in Edinburgh to raise money for the charity, entertained by musicians Liam Gallagher, Amy MacDonald, Deacon Blue and Frightened Rabbit -- whose singer Scott Hutchison was found dead on May 9 a few miles upriver from where the Social Bite Village now stands.

Reverend Ewan Aitken, chief executive of the Edinburgh Cyrenians charity which will be supporting the village residents, told AFP: "Edinburgh has a significant challenge with homelessness, partly because of the distinct lack of housing, and particularly affordable housing, but there is also a group of people who face quite extreme destitution. In an otherwise rich city the division is quite strong."

The community atmosphere is designed to break the spiral of destitution that lands people on the streets, often as a result of childhood abuse which leads to behavioural problems, crime and imprisonment.

Sonny Murray, 38, from Glasgow, was helped to reintegrate into society by Social Bite after a prison spell.

"The council thought I had abandoned my tenancy so I returned to a locked door," he told AFP.

"All my possessions were dumped in a skip so I ended up on the streets for about four months."

He added: "The village feels homely, with nice wee gardens and the houses are quite close together so I would imagine that it will be sociable with everybody living here together.

"I think it will be amazing."