Possibly one of the most challenging Cyrenians moments was not a crisis but a conversation with someone who went to the same school as me – which was, for the record, Woodmill High School, Dunfermline.
What made the conversation significant was that this individual was someone with whom our outreach team had been on a journey with. He’d left Fife in fear of his life, but because of significant literacy challenges, he’d been unable to access services or support until our team came along.
They are in a much better place now thanks to our support and their capacity to respond to what was offered. But the time on the streets and the never-to-be-repaired relationships they left have marked them for life.
Our conversation was a stark reminder that what can seem like the same start in life can be marked by immense differences. Woodmill is a good school. I had a good education there. But if life is chaos, then it’s much harder to make the best of what is available.
And when the chaos carries other challenges, both your own and that of others around you, the spiral to the tough reality of homelessness can be strong, to the point of being unstoppable.
A new report called Hard Edges Scotland will shed a light on many stories, like the one I heard that day from my classmate on the street in Edinburgh’s city centre.
It tells us why, for example, so many people facing severe and multiple disadvantage commit offences and/or requesting custodial services, in order to gain access to support and ‘safe places’ within the criminal justice system after being routinely failed by other services.
It shows how the highest risks are associated with being younger (under 40), single, white and male; which describes the person I was in conversation with.
It also tells us how just 7 Local Authorities (Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Dundee, Fife and North and South Lanarkshire) account for 53 percent of the total number of adults in Scotland experiencing two or more of the core disadvantages of homelessness, substance misuse and offending; with poverty being a significant background factor, which emerges more strongly for the most extreme forms of severe and multiple disadvantage.
There is also growing evidence of how childhood trauma lies behind a great deal of adult severe and multiple disadvantage. Our early pain lives with us for all our lives and needs careful care and attention if it is to be overcome. The solutions for those living the tough realities of homelessness are as much about the healing of souls as the giving of shelter and bread, fundamental as these are.
When it comes to preventative interventions, schools and other educational services were a central theme raised by individuals with lived experience, service providers and national stakeholders; but it cannot be the school alone, nor can the focus be only on the individual separate from their family, whatever form that takes.
The report is not an easy read. Nor does it offer easy solutions. What it is full of is the voices of those who know what it’s like to live this tough reality, sometimes for decades. Which is why, no matter how tough you find it, I’d encourage you to read it if you can – it will speak to your soul and help us all understand a bit better how the voices it contains, and many more like them, should be at the heart of the discussions around changes we need to make for Scotland to be a place where everyone can flourish – no matter what school they go to.