Social Innovation

This Scottish café chain has built a village for the homeless

An ewe and its lambs rest on the Isle of Lewis and Harris, an island off the northwestern tip of Scotland in the Outer Hebrides, Britain April 27, 2016. Picture taken April 27, 2016. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Social Bite is doing its bit to help Scotland's homeless population. Image: REUTERS/Russell Cheyne

Lee Mannion
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A cafe chain that employs homeless people and runs a scheme to provide free food to rough sleepers has gone a step further, building a village of 11 houses in Scotland.

Up to 20 homeless people will be given accommodation in the new village to the north of the Scottish capital Edinburgh built by Social Bite, which was set up in 2012.

"Something special has been created," said Angela Constance, the Scottish communities minister at the launch on Thursday.

"Not just building houses, but building homes, building community – a community that will provide support and enable folk to rebuild their lives."

Next month the first six residents will move into the village, which sits on land loaned by the Edinburgh city council for four years.

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If they decide not to renew the loan the prefabricated houses, which last for up to 100 years, can be moved.

Social Bite founder Josh Littlejohn said homeless people had been ignored politically for too long.

"They're not a demographic of people that would vote and it's not a big vote winning issue, so I think if we keep pushing the political focus on the issue, the statistics are solvable in a country like Scotland," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

There are 11,000 homeless households in Scotland, according to government figures, and the number has been rising steadily since 2015.

Last year the Scottish government pledged 50 million pounds ($67.53 million) to fund homelessness prevention schemes over the next five years.

The charity Shelter says as "a conservative estimate" 307,000 people are homeless in Britain.

Social Bite opened its first outlet in 2012 and now has five shops and a restaurant in Scotland. One in four staff at the chain is homeless, and customers can pay for meals that homeless people can claim later.

It distributed nearly 100,000 items of food last year and engages with more than 300 homeless people per week.

Social Bite is one of a growing number of social enterprises in Scotland - businesses that aim to help society as well as making money.

Image: Thomson Reuters Foundation/Lee Mannion

The country had 5,600 social enterprises last year, up from 5,199 in 2015, according to campaign group Social Enterprise Scotland.

The government has a a 10-year strategy to support social enterprise, including making funding available and expanding education about the sector in schools.

The village will be operated in conjuction with Scottish homeless charity Cyrenians, which is assessing applications for residents.

"The mark of any society is how you look after those who are most excluded. This village says an extraordinary thing about how we all want the world to be," said Cyrenians chief executive Euan Aitken in a speech marking the opening of the village.

($1 = 0.7405 pounds)

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