Glasgow's overnight welcome centre 'We can't go back to mattresses on floor for homeless'

By Stewart Paterson

Political Correspondent

Glasgow's overnight welcome centre 'We can't go back to mattresses on floor for homeless'

Get the Morning Briefing newsletter

Glasgow can’t return to the old night shelter model, the staff who run a new service say.

The old winter night shelter in Glasgow, where up to 40 men and women could be found sleeping on the floor in a hall, has been replaced with an Overnight Welcome Centre in a city hostel type hotel.

The difference is literally night and day.

READ MORE: Details of hotel spending for homeless people in Glasgow kept secret

The old service was open from 10pm to 8am in the Lodging House Mission premises near the Barras. Dozens of men, mostly, and some women, turned up, got food and a hot drink and a warm welcome and social work staff were there to help with accommodation if they could, then in the morning they were on their way, many back to the streets.

Now, in an undisclosed location, people have their own en-suite room, facilities open 24 hours a day with support staff working during the day to find more settled accommodation.

The rooms are basic but comfortable. If a mat on the floor is a step up from a shop doorway then this is a big leap, if still not perfect.

Glasgow City Mission is still in charge of the operation and they do not want to go back to the old shelter method.

The pandemic and physical distancing forced a rethink.

READ MORE: Dad who lived in woods in Glasgow has new home with Housing First

Elyse MacKinnon, Overnight Welcome Centre manager, said: “Who knows for how long it would’ve been mattresses of the floor. We couldn’t have people a feet away from each other during a pandemic.”

Jack Geddes, marketing and fundraising manager of Glasgow City Mission, said: “It is one person per room. People have dignity and privacy.”

The night shelter started in 2010 during a bad winter and operated out of Lodging House Mission in East Campbell Street, every year from December to March, until March 2020.

Mr Geddes, said: “We had always hoped to get to something like this.”

A housing settlement Officer is on site to help people move on as quickly as possible.

Ms MacKinnon added: “We want to break the cycle of homelessness. We want to stop people coming back year after year.”

Who is seeking emergency shelter, is changing in the city.

She added: “There is an increase in international guests. We have a lot of guests who are seeking asylum. People who have come into the UK on the boats or in lorries."

There can be more international guests than local.

Fewer people are spending longer periods in the centre now, with people being found more settled accommodation, sometimes the same day they arrive.

Ms McKinnon added: “Hotel living isn’t ideal but it’s better than a mattress on the floor.”

“I don’t think Glasgow will return to mattresses on the floor.”

The centre is ultimately funded by the Scottish Government,  through the council, part of the continued response to taking people off the streets during the pandemic.

It is hoped it will continue.

Mr Geddes added: “The Scottish government have pledged to end homelessness. We can't return to before.

“The funding tap won’t be turned off overnight. No-one knows how funding will go. We will get to March,  the clocks will go forward, and people stop thinking about homelessness until next winter comes around.”

Asked if he thought we could go back to the old night shelter he said :”There will be uproar.”

He said: "There will always be a problem with homelessness. Things happen to people through no fault of their own. We need to have the safety net and the support. It is not just the venue.

There were 28 people staying the night before the Glasgow Times was shown round the facility.

There has been more than 100 people using the centre overnight so far since November when it opened.

Some of the people who have spent time in the centre this year left messages.

They include: “I’d rather stay here.”

“Best supported accommodation I’ve been in and I’ve been in them all.”

“Thank you so much for helping me and welcoming me in when I needed it.

From someone who had been in the UK since 2009: “This is the only place I’ve had help in the UK."

A  Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We are committed to ensuring that there is no return to dormitory style night shelters. In partnership with local authorities and third sector partners, we have improved the services offered to people at risk of rough sleeping by establishing two rapid rehousing welcome centres in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

“Rapid Rehousing Welcome Centres provide safe and self-contained rapid access accommodation. Multi-agency services support people at risk of rough sleeping to access settled accommodation and other support services. Since 2020, we have provided £700,000 to support the introduction and operation of Rapid Rehousing Welcome Centres in Glasgow and Edinburgh."