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Freezing conditions expected for ‘world’s biggest sleepout’ to end homelessness

Around 9,000 people are expected to bed down for the night in Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens.

Thousands of people will sleep out in freezing conditions in Scotland’s capital to raise money to tackle homelessness.

Around 9,000 people are expected to bed down for the night in Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens as part of “the world’s biggest sleepout”.

Queues stretched from the entrances to the gardens as thousands arrived to secure their spot. Crowds laid out rows of sleeping bags in orange waterproof covers on top of groundsheets covering the grass.

The Sleep in the Park event aims to raise £4 million to end rough sleeping and homelessness in Scotland.

Those taking part will be entertained with music from Liam Gallagher, Deacon Blue, Amy Macdonald and Frightened Rabbit.

John Cleese is supporting the event by writing and performing a bedtime story, while Sir Bob Geldof will be sleeping out and addressing the audience.

Scotland’s Deputy First Minister John Swinney, Communities Secretary Angela Constance and Housing Minister Kevin Stewart have also signed up to take part.

The event has been organised by Josh Littlejohn, co-founder of Social Bite, which helps the homeless through cafes, a restaurant and fundraising events.

A quarter of Social Bite’s staff are homeless and the charity has attracted the support of Hollywood stars Leonardo DiCaprio and George Clooney.

The charity has already donated £25,000 of funds raised from the sleepout to the Bethany Christian Trust to fund extra capacity at its winter care shelter.

Mr Littlejohn said: “I’m blown away by the amount of people who have turned out.

“It looks like we’re going to have about 8,000 people come and sleep out which is mind-blowing really for a country like Scotland, a small country, to get behind a cause like that.

“That’s going to translate to somewhere in the region of between £3 million and £4 million that’s going to be raised. It’s an absolutely incredible result and I’m really humbled by it.”

He said the famous names lend “excitement” to the occasion but people had turned up for the cause of tackling homelessness rather than as music fans.

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Hundreds of people arranged orange waterproof covers (Stewart Attwood/Handout/PA)

He added: “This concept of sleeping in the cold is such a daunting thing in people’s mind that it trumps Liam Gallagher and it trumps anyone else, but it just helps lend that level of excitement and gets people engaged in the issue, so we’re really grateful for everyone that’s turned out to support.

“It’s looking about minus 6C (21F) so hopefully everyone comes wrapped up warm, but it’s dry and the wind is not too bad.”

Mr Littlejohn said he hoped the event would lead to a structural change in homelessness in Scotland to the Housing First model, following pledges that around 475 homes for homeless people will be provided across the central belt by the EdIndex Partnership and Wheatley Group.

He said: “That’s almost 500 homes in the central belt alone that have been offered and that’s going to get people out of sleeping rough, out of hostels and out of the homeless system and give something that we all take for granted, which is a stable place to call home.

“From that safe and secure base we’re going to fund a comprehensive support resource to go round those people and make sure they are supported in those homes and help get them out of that dire situation.

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Those taking part were issued with survival bags (Stewart Attwood/PA)

He said: “That’s something that we hope will be a more broad structural response in Scotland, so our default position as a society and as local government and national government, the way we respond to homelessness is to try and get people into a mainstream stable home and provide some support around it.”

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