A BISHOP whose patch includes Ross-shire has spoken of the "disgrace" of homelessness after taking part in a mass sleep-out which rekindled memories of his own experiences living rough.
The Most Rev Mark Strange, Bishop of Moray, Ross and Caithness, and Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, made his remarks after joining 8000 others for the Sleep in the Park event in Edinburgh organised by a social enterprise behind radical plans to tackle homelessness.
Bishop Mark was joined by family in Princess Street Gardens to highlight the issue and back Social Bite, which runs a chain of cafes and restaurants which employ more than 100 people, many of whom have struggled with homelessness and which is the largest distributor of fresh, free food to the homeless in the UK.
Recalling his own experiences of being homeless, he said: "I will always remember the day that my wife Jane and I were forced to leave our first home together – a home we had slowly improved as we enjoyed the first year of married life.
"We were forced to leave because the landlord had sold the property to a developer and the house was to be demolished. This also brought to an end my local employment.
"The processes of applying to housing lists, housing associations and the council were all unknown to us and life just seemed very scary and uncertain.
"We decided to take the opportunity to ’get on our bikes‘ and to find accommodation and work, and so we placed the little furniture and possessions we had into a relative’s cellar and set off.
"We slept on friends’ floors, we slept in railway stations and on buses – we were always on edge wondering where we would be next.
"People were good to us but with each new month it became harder to look and feel smart and presentable for interview, harder to fit in.
"The final straw for me was when the verger at the church we headed for on the Sunday morning asked us to sit in the porch and said ‘the vicar will bring you a sandwich when the service ends’. I felt humiliated, an outsider, we became the ones people avoided.
"This period of our lives lasted just under two years and, as I have said, many people – relatives, friends – were wonderful; and I am aware that my pride probably stopped us simply sloping off to my parents. Yet on reflection it was so easy to slip into a place where you began to disappear, where you were no longer noticed.
"I know what it is like to have no real home, no resources to fall back on and to live with the fear and vulnerability that this brings.
"I urge you to please support your local homelessness charities, and try to do something to help. I know how important this can be to someone."
Speaking after the sleep-out, supported by politicians and celebrities and backing plans for a village project for homeless people in Edinburgh, Bishop Mark said: "I have to confess to feeling apprehensive as the evening began. It was so very cold.
"I had forgotten how long the night can be when you are aware of each passing hour and how much noise the city generates.
"I was very glad of the company of family and so relieved when we were told it was time to leave the gardens.
"The real effect came on Sunday evening as we walked to meet friends and I felt burdened by the knowledge that so many people would still be sleeping out tonight and every night and just how impossibly hard I would find that.
"We live in a rich country and no one should need to sleep rough – it is a disgrace.
"To those whom I so often walk past on the city streets, apologies, and I will use whatever influence I might have to try and end homelessness in Scotland."
The weekend event has raised aroud £3.6 million.
More on the work done by Social Bite can be found at social-bite.co.uk