Homeless Centre To Shut After 70 Years

A centre which provides cheap food and shelter for homeless people in Edinburgh is to close its doors on Friday after more than 70 years. Funding for the Ark cafe and drop-in centre in the Old Town was axed earlier this year by the city council, leaving the trust which runs it with no choice but to close the service.

But support workers and board members of the Ark Trust today said the fight is not over and they hope to re-open the cafe and other services in time for the winter. The New Street canteen provides hot, cheap food for up to 110 people every morning after a night sleeping rough or in hostels, and has been a vital service for homeless and vulnerable people since it was founded as in 1936.

Lesley Bartolo, a member of the board of volunteers which runs the trust, said the Ark’s closure was a “great shame”. “As it stands at the moment we will close on Friday until such time as we can get some funding to re-open,” she said. “It is a great shame after 70 years and it’s going to be very tough on the service users. Our aim now is to re-open for the winter months or to put on some kind of service. We have had a lot of interest from people who want the service to stay open, but we don’t have any money.”

The trust has already been in discussions with various funding bodies, and has more meetings lined up. As well as the cafe, the Ark Trust runs Space 44, for women affected by domestic abuse, and the Supporting People Service, to help rough sleepers when they eventually move into a flat.

Lee Williamson, who coordinates the Supporting People Service, said: “I’m quite sad really that we are having to close and I’m sad for the service users because it’s them who will suffer. There isn’t an alternative service available. We are hoping to re-open in October because it’s the winter months where people suffer the most.”

The New Street centre also provides help and advice from trained support workers and access to laundry services. Bobby Norriss, who has visited the cafe for more than three years, said Friday will mark a sad day for homeless people, who will be left with nowhere to go.

The 43-year-old said: “It’s not good for us and everyone is really unhappy about it. We will have nowhere to go from 7am when we come out of the Cowgate Centre. I’ve spoken to the manager about it and I know they don’t have a choice because they don’t have any funding, so we all feel really angry that the council has done this to us.”

City centre councillor Joanna Mowatt said: “I find it very concerning that we are losing valuable provision for drop-in services in the city centre. I am concerned about the effect it’s going to have on the Canongate and Royal Mile if we are going to find an increase in homeless people with nowhere to go. I’m very hopeful that they will be able to open again but there will be a gap in provision in the meantime.”