In shop doorways and on city centre pavements, rough sleeping is becoming ever more visible in Glasgow with the numbers of people without a bed for the night rising to pre-pandemic levels.

While the issue seems increasingly visible to anyone moving through the city, homelessness charities are also concerned about more vulnerable people bedding down in parks and even cemeteries.

To tackle the need to serve the community in harder to reach places, Simon Community Scotland set up its Street Cycles team.

READ MORE: Street Cycles: The man who has been living rough in a Glasgow park for eight years

Volunteers on bikes react to tips from a hotline and head out across the peripheries of Glasgow to take practical and emotional support to those who need it.

"Women tend to, if they are rough sleeping, sleep outside of the city centre and they tend to be very hard to find because they have to be [for their own safety]," Hugh Hill, Depute CEO/Director of Services and Development at the charity, said.

"So they take additional precautions to keep themselves safe. So, for example, one of the women was sleeping in Queen’s Park.

"Our work is often focused around the city centre, it’s where the main concentration of men would be rough sleeping or bedding.

"We knew we had to find a way of reaching out further so Street Cycles was born out of a need to get beyond the city centre and reach out to areas it would take too long to walk to."

Calls come in to a free phone number to alert the Street Team to people sleeping rough.

Two volunteers or staff will be sent out to the location but often it takes several visits to track someone down - time consuming and difficult on foot.

The Herald:

Hugh added: "So we thought if we had volunteers on bikes then they could get out there pretty quickly and we could start to track places beyond the city centre."

READ MORE: Scottish women are being failed by lack of female-specific gambling support

Street Cycle riders take out everything from bedding to warm clothes, period products and sunscreen, and safe injecting equipment as well as Naloxone, a drug that reverses opioid overdoses.

During the coronavirus pandemic a concerted bid to bring everyone indoors for public safety reasons dramatically reduced the number of rough sleepers in Glasgow to five.

Recently Simon Community Scotland carried out its regular survey and found 34 people bedding down outside.

Of those, 23 had recourse to public funds - so a legal right to be housed - but, the charity says, they are not being accommodated as readily as before.

Craig Kirk, Street Cycles Coordinator, runs the project, which has moved to a new, permanent premises on King Street in Glasgow's Merchant City.

He said: "A night like last night when the temperatures really plummeted, it’s about how are we keeping people safe with the numbers of rough sleepers going up."

READ MORE: Mother tells of losing everything to partner's gambling addiction

Volunteer numbers have fluctuated but the charity is now launching a concerted push to expand the bike team to as many as 60 volunteers.

Craig hopes the new hub will help in this: it's kitted out to look like a bike cafe and is warm, comfortable and has a dedicated bike repair workshop in the back.

It's also home to the Street Reads project, which takes books out to homeless people who may not access libraries.

The charity is calling for volunteers who can cycle to join an innovative team taking vital supplies and support to people rough sleeping in Glasgow.

Eventually they also want to support homeless people to cycle too - for physical and mental health as well as a form of free transport.

Hugh said: "We want to build long term connections with the volunteers.

"Most of the people on the streets are well-kent faces so it takes time to build up those relationships so we need people who plan stay for several years and nurture those relationships."

The impact of Street Cycles was seen particularly during the pandemic when volunteers would stop at the city's homeless hostels.

Hugh said: "It started off [volunteers] would just pop in and hand in some kettle food or some snacks but it became clear that people weren’t connected to anybody.

"I remember when I was a kid the ice cream van used to come round and everyone would rush out – it became kind of like that.

"Here were people with information and support, and it became a big part of the role, just connecting with people, giving out information and connecting with someone who cared, who had some sense of compassion.

"The guys recognise that these are people who are giving their time to do what they do and there’s a connection there – it’s different from paid staff."