A squad of volunteers will sleep rough in Lerwick to raise money for homeless people living in terrible conditions in Kyrgystan.
Organiser Valerie Lafferty and other volunteers will be on the streets with the message – “please don’t pass us by”. They are appealing for money to help fund a homeless centre in the Kyrgyz capital city of Bishkek.
According to Ms Lafferty, who is hotel services manager at Gilbert Bain Hospital, homeless people in Kyrgyzstan, a land-locked central Asian republic, live under appalling conditions. They are subject to frostbite in the winter, routinely denied medical treatment and prey to ill-treatment by the authorities.
Ms Lafferty visited the Fountain of Life Centre in Bishkek in April and spent a month looking after homeless people there as a volunteer. Before going, along with other fund-raisers, she collected £1,900 for the charity.
Around 60 to 80 homeless use the centre and the cash raised in Shetland was sufficient to fund the activities of the centre for around three months, according to Ms Lafferty.
She said: “Please do not pass us by. Just drop in a pound for the homeless or any change that you can spare.”
Ms Lafferty added: “I would like to continue raising money for this amazing cause and that’s why me and a few friends are doing a sleep-out and ‘begging’, to raise money and awareness. Twenty four hours on the street will not even touch what it must be like to have no home, no money and nobody to care about you”.
According to Ms Lafferty, the homeless centre provides food, medical treatment, clean cloths, showers and, most importantly, love. The homeless go to the centre three times a week and twice a week the staff will do street work, where they look for the homeless to tell them about the centre.
They also arrange meeting points outwith the centre so that the staff can be on hand to take homeless people to hospital or to help with any social needs. The centre is able to support the homeless in getting documents such as passports together so they can look for work.
Ms Lafferty visited a couple of hospitals whilst in Kyrgyzstan, and discovered their dreadful conditions. Even so, anyone who cannot pay won’t be treated or admitted to hospital.
Staff from the centre have to go and administer medicine, change any dressings and pay for any treatment for the homeless.
Frostbite is just one of the physical difficulties the homeless face on the street. “I have seen some horrific sights and the smells will stay with me forever, the sadness is that after 10 days of amputation the patient is discharged with no medicine, no clean dressings, no walking aids, nothing,” added Mrs Lafferty.
She met one 20-year-old woman called Nina who had all her toes amputated but couldn’t walk as she had been discharged from hospital before her wounds had healed. The centre staff attend her dressings every other day, even if this should happen in a ditch. Nina had become homeless through family circumstances and had spent the last seven years of her young life living on the streets.
The rough sleepers may have blankets, but that is no protection against the biting cold of the Kyrgyz winter. They can be readily identified by the bags they lug that contain their worldly possessions.
Ms Lafferty added: “One of the beautiful things I did notice was while the homeless had nothing, and I mean nothing, they could still smile and laugh. The beautiful thing about the centre is that the staff see the homeless as human beings and show them love.”
The sleepout volunteers plan to collect money on the street through the day on Saturday, 16th August, before having a pub collection in the evening.
Ms Lafferty said that they were undaunted by the prospect of sleeping on the street on a Lerwick Saturday night, though they might have a long wait before the street is quiet enough for them to settle down.