Our blog posts will be written with the aim of promoting discussion about homelessness and raising awareness of some of its root causes. We have plenty of issues we would like to discuss, but finding a starting point in what sometimes feels like a maze of systemic issues proved somewhat challenging. It therefore seemed appropriate to begin with a conversation with someone who has first hand experience of being homeless in Edinburgh and the trials and tribulations which comes alongside this. With this in mind, we decided to reach out to Sonny.
Some of our team members first had the pleasure of meeting Sonny when he attended our screening of I, Daniel Blake back in March. He attended the event with Zakia, founder of the organisation Invisible Cities which trains formerly homeless people to be tour guides. Sonny spoke about his own experience of being homeless, his struggle with drug addiction and his journey out of homelessness into secure housing and employment. He now works as a tour guide for Invisible Cities in Edinburgh and also works with Social Bite. Whilst attending one of his brilliant tours of Edinburgh’s Old Town, he told us that he’s also involved with working to secure funding for local organizations that support those affected by homelessness. Sonny’s dedication to helping those who are experiencing the difficulties he himself has struggled with is clear. He not only has a hand in many different inspiring organizations, but his eagerness and optimism undoubtedly comes across in person, which is perhaps why he was chosen to speak at Social Bite’s ‘Sleep in the Park’ 2018, where he encouraged people to engage with homelessness as an issue and was a motivating voice for change.
We therefore wanted our first blog post to encompass Sonny’s very honest depiction of his own story and so we asked him some questions, and he answered.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself — your background and your interests?
My name is Sonny, I am from Glasgow and now live in Edinburgh. I work for two social enterprises which I really enjoy as it is not only helping me but also other people. When I am working, I feel I am doing something worthwhile. I am an ex-addict and I enjoy talking to people about my journey.
What is your homelessness story?
I was homeless a few times. I became homeless and on the streets after losing my tenancy when I was in jail. The council locked up my flat while I was away saying I had abandoned it (which wasn’t true). This is also when I came through to Edinburgh (I was in West Lothian before). I got myself through the system and got my own tenancy.
What were the most difficult parts of being homeless?
Being on drugs, trying to secure money to feed that habit. It is a constant struggle. Trying to keep myself clean (knowing places where to take a shower, wash clothes) is very important and yet a difficult thing.
When did you feel the most safe / unsafe?
I felt safe, only when I got my own house. On the streets I felt unsafe. I got into fights 3 or 4 times and people would pass by either insulting me or kicking me.
What kept you going?
Knowing that I would eventually get my own place. I just had to be patient.
What do you think are some of the biggest misconceptions about homelessness in Edinburgh?
Homelessness comes in many different shapes and forms. People can be sofa surfing, in hostels or B&Bs etc. I think it’s important for people to remember that homeless people are not only the folk you see on the streets.
What do you wish people who have never been homeless would try to understand about people who are facing homelessness? How do you wish they would treat people who are homeless?
That homeless people are people. And at the end of the day, we all have issues. We all have dreams and plans.
Do you think politicians are paying enough attention to homelessness?
In Scotland I feel there is a big willingness to change things. I realise it is not an easy thing to do so it will take time.
What does the word “home” mean to you?
Somewhere that is mine and somewhere where I feel safe.
Invisible Cities’ tours are unique to each tour guide’s own story and interests. Sonny’s tour centres around crime and punishment due to experiencing prison himself for minor crimes. Having experienced dimensions to Edinburgh which most of us have not, Sonny, along with his colleagues, are each able to offer their own distinctive tour of the city. The tours are honest, informative and also great fun and we highly recommend them to anyone who’d like an authentic toured experience of some of the UK’s city streets.
Invisible Cities now operates in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester and York. More information can be found on their website: https://invisible-cities.org/