ROUGH sleeping might be the most obvious manifestation of homelessness – as far as the general public is concerned – but it is not the only

type. Add, for instance, sofa-hopping and short-term, uncertain lets.

It’s this reality (that each and every "homeless" person is different) that is the driving force behind what we at the charity Simon Community Scotland do each and every day. Simply, we get alongside people and respond to their needs, whether it is to provide advice and skills training, offer accommodation ranging from emergency to much longer-term, or introduce them to other agencies who might be able to help in a different way.

It’s our 50th birthday this month, which we are marking with mixed feelings, since none of us would wish homelessness on anyone.

Homelessness is not a lifestyle choice, it is not necessarily rough sleeping and it’s not just about whether you have a roof over your


Some of the issues are headline-grabbing: for instance, a long-term rough sleeper has a life expectancy of 43, is 13 times more likely than the general public to experience violence, 47 times more likely to be the victim of theft and three times more likely to have been a victim of a road traffic accident. We estimate one in 10 rough sleepers to have been a victim of sexual violence within the previous 12 months.

Some issues, meanwhile, are less headline-grabbing, such as homeless people being disconnected in an increasingly digital world (a recent

survey we conducted found that less than 20 per of the people we spoke to had an email address).

At Simon Community Scotland, we deliver around 170,000 hours of support every year and engage with up to 3,000 people at risk of, or experiencing, homelessness. We actively engage to reach rough sleepers in Glasgow, in particular, and see around 150 people on the streets every month, with up to 40 new cases each month.

The first Simon Community was founded in London in 1963; ours in Scotland three years later, originally only in Glasgow. And our ethos

has remained constant: we work with people, we try to find solutions for them and we seek to learn from and share solutions proven to have


Of course, our birthday allows us to thank all those hundreds of people who have helped us over the years, including our 200-strong,

amazing staff, and our volunteers. We have several events taking place this month, many aimed at recruiting even more volunteers (we were recently successful at securing funding to employ a dedicated volunteering manager).

This 50th anniversary gives us a real opportunity to build our volunteer team: whether former volunteers who would like to reconnect with us,

people new to volunteering for us or former users of our services who have direct experiences to share.

Volunteers provide the time (and sympathetic ear) required to get alongside someone – to help carry their burden, for as long as their journey lasts. While that, of course, requires a professional input, in terms of staff skills, it also requires straightforward human skills of listening, talking and just being there. Providing, if you like, a beacon of hope.

No matter how big or small the challenge facing a person who is homeless, it really is about sharing the journey.

Sometimes that involves use of our network of accommodation – currently operating in Glasgow, North Ayrshire and North Lanarkshire. How long a person stays will be a reflection of their individual needs, and to what extent they require support towards finding real solutions, including with friends and family.

It might be that our relationship with a homeless person begins with a conversation with someone sleeping rough. Or because they have been

referred to us by a third party organisation, such as a statutory agency or other charity. Or they might have self-presented, perhaps in the immediate aftermath of a job loss, a tenancy issue or marriage breakdown.

Homeless is horrible, make no mistake. And our role at Simon Community Scotland is to try and find what works for each and every

person that we encounter.

As to our own journey? It’s of course, no contest: it is doing everything we can to tackle homelessness so that, in 50 years’ time, it is well and truly is consigned to the pages of history.

Lorraine McGrath is chief executive of Simon Community Scotland.