One missed payment is all it takes to be penniless, alone and on the street — homelessness can strike at any time.
And it can affect anyone, with students increasingly falling foul of landlords, according to one of Dundee’s street chaplains.
Andy Burns, a street chaplain for Urban Impact Christian Ministries, has spent the past 16 years helping those on the city’s streets find a safe haven for the night.
He spoke to the Tele about what’s changed over the years and how his team has adapted to it, as well as a general snapshot of a night with a street chaplain.
It comes as the chaplains have released a video to show the work of the team in Dundee — A Night In The Life of a… Dundee Street Chaplain.
The video shows the chaplains talking to folk on the street, offering them hot drinks and a friendly chat.
A variety of people — including teenagers on a night out as well as the older generation — are spoken to by the volunteers throughout the night.
Andy said: “It’s fairly quiet in town at the moment — it’s always quieter after Christmas but this January is even quieter than usual.
“The main change over the 16 years I’ve been doing this in Dundee has been how much better it’s become — it used to be much worse.
“The problem we’re increasingly tackling is homelessness — and not just the people visible on the streets, there’s a hidden homeless seeping in too, people you wouldn’t expect to be in trouble.
“We’re hearing of students in particular who are left sofa surfing after not having enough of their loan left to pay rent.
“And that’s fine, as long as they have someone willing to offer a sofa, but if that disappears before the next loan comes in then their troubles really begin. We’re here to provide support and guidance to anyone in that situation.”
Andy said the quieter town centre had allowed the chaplains more time to focus on issues such as homelessness, although they still had their work cut out to keep people safe on nights out.
He added: “There’s been such improvement in the services available and the way that we all work together now.
“We have a great relationship with all the agencies involved in safety in the city.
“But legal highs are still a problem and not one we’re particularly geared up to handle.
“They were all over the city at Christmas and we kept coming across them.
“They cause us issues because of the erratic behaviour of people using them.
“We’re all well-trained and mostly experienced first aiders so we know how to deal with people on drink or even on known drugs.
“But legal highs are incredibly unpredictable and so are the people on them.
“It can actually be quite scary watching them. They’re all over the place and you have no idea what they might do. It’s definitely more an issue among students rather than older people — but it’s a dangerous one.
“We’d like some training on legal highs and how to deal with someone on them.
“Some of the legal highs make people act very crazy.
“And we are not always prepared to handle the more extreme cases.
“I’m very glad the new laws banning legal highs came in. The issue may not have got better yet, but it’s stopped getting worse.”
Andy said the Dundee Safe Zone bus was a crucial resource for the chaplains as a safe place to take people regardless of what state they are in.
He added: “The bus is invaluable to us. It gives us a base for people to come to us for help, whether it’s medical or just putting them in a taxi home. Of course, we will also call the police and an ambulance if necessary.”
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