Shelter Scotland has published a noteworthy report profiling people begging in Edinburgh. The report asked questions of 420 people; that’s unlikely to be everyone, but it’s a lot.
Addiction plays a large part, with nearly 90% misusing drugs or alcohol; more than 80% had mental health problems, mainly depression and anxiety, and more than 60% also had physical health problems. It’s a population that overlaps with street homelessness – 43% said they slept rough – but the two things are not equivalent, and I was struck as much by the differences as by the similarities. When I worked on the census of homeless people in Aberdeen, it was the support staff who tended to say that the problems were problems of life-style and personal issues; homeless people said that the main problems were that they were cold and they were hungry. People begging in Edinburgh seem far more likely to say that it’s down to their personal issues.
I did wonder if people might have been steered in some directions by the shape of the questions asked. One of the messages from the qualitative studies I’ve done with psychiatric patients in the past is that family matters; the people left without support to become homeless are mainly those whose relationships with the family have broken down. This is hinted at, but overall it’s not a major factor here. In fairness, though, it’s difficult to set up exploratory, discursive interviews with homeless people (been there, done that); the remarkable thing about the Shelter study is how much information they’ve been able to bring together.