December 23 – Edinburgh rough sleeping count

15 January 2024
Fiona Williamson, Head of Edinburgh Services, wrote this blog following a rough sleeping count on 15th December 2023.

December 15th 


It’s that time of year, the lights are up, everything sparkles, sipping hot chocolate, warm cosy slippers, we reflect on the year that’s passed and feel thankful for the things we have. For so many, this year more than ever, things look very different.


In the early hours of Friday 15th December, staff and volunteers from Streetwork at Simon Community Scotland led a team of 30 volunteers from a variety of partners across the city to respond to the number of people rough sleeping across Edinburgh. It paints a sombre picture seeing people being bedded down in doorways in some of our most prominent buildings in the city. This highlights the challenges faced by people without shelter.


Our team found 42 people sleeping rough in and around Edinburgh City Centre.  We estimate that this was 37 male and 5 female. The nationalities cannot be confirmed as many people were bedded down under cover. What we know is that one person sleeping rough is one too many.  


Most of the people found were known to us and are being linked to services. For those we don’t know we have created an outreach response to reach them early morning. We managed to accommodate someone directly from a doorway to a safe space at Bethany Welcome Centre that evening. We continue to work creatively with the City of Edinburgh Council and our partner agencies to find solutions for each individual discovered that night.


We extend a heartfelt thank you to Bethany Welcome Centre, Crisis, SACRO, and Right There, who attended with the count alongside us. We greatly appreciate your friendship, experience, partnership and support.  


All staff and volunteers received a health and safety briefing and were provided with emergency contact numbers and split into groups of 2.  The  Count Coordinator remained at the base of operations to check on staff welfare and collate key findings.   In the interest of safety, everyone was split into groups of 2, whilst ensuring that each team had at least 1 staff member trained in the use of Naloxone. Each team was provided with 2 naloxone kits in response to current drug trends.

We were careful not to disturb people who were bedded down and sleeping but took steps to make sure they were ok. We provided people with rough sleeping safety packs where risk was identified; warm clothing, food and drinks, vouchers for a warm breakfast and signposting information. In some cases when people were awake we provided support planning and arranged follow up appointments.


Accuracy of Count

We knew in undertaking this most recent count that the reality is that we wouldn’t find everyone. Some people take great care to remain undetected and others choose to bed down in more remote locations outside the city centre, such as parks and cemeteries. Thanks to our amazing relationship with partner agencies and members of the public who alert us to these individuals, we can follow up and check these spaces during daylight hours.

Our team followed up on reports of people rough sleeping, but we could not locate all of the people that had been reported at those locations.  We will continue to focus outreaches to these areas and thank members of the public and park rangers for their ongoing support and telephone calls to our crisis freephone. These calls allow us to respond to people quickly and find solutions for the most vulnerable.  After our previous outreach, where 80 people were found bedded down.  We responded immediately with our partners and accommodated 48 people in the Welcome Centre.  This is why multi-agency working is so important.

Our Street Team, Helpline and Support Hub

Our Edinburgh Street Team work 7-days per week, 365 days a year in all weathers building relationships and trust with people who are rough sleeping, or at risk of rough sleeping in the city. This includes people who regularly beg in Edinburgh and people who are staying in B&Bs, hostels and hotels in the city. We report on rough sleeping and street begging numbers on a weekly basis. People are supported at our hub at holyrood road where incredible things happen with over 24 partners working with us to help those most in need.

Edinburgh Support Hub, 22 Holyrood Road, Edinburgh EH8 8AF
Open Mon to Fri 9am-8.00pm (except Wednesday when we open at 10am)
Sat & Sun 9am to 5pm.  Our hub supports rough sleepers every morning with a warm smile, breakfast, hot showers and amenities. Throughout the day we offer a number of services that help create pathways out of rough sleeping and allow people to access the support they need.

Our 24 hour freephone number is 0808 178 2323 for people to access information and support, or for the public to notify us of people who may need our help.   


Fiona Williamson

Head of Service – Edinburgh