Media release: Edinburgh homelessness charity’s Christmas appeal aiming to help protect NHS resources

Jerry McFarlane_wide

HOMELESSNESS charity, Rowan Alba, has launched its annual Christmas appeal in a bid to boost the core services which reduce reliance on accident and emergency wards and shorten hospital stays.

This covers their temporary accommodation, permanent supported housing, outreach services and the new Rowan Alba hospital link worker, specifically in place to support the NHS alcohol liaison staff at the New Royal Infirmary Edinburgh at arguably their most challenging time of the year.

Rowan Alba provides a range of services, including its home for life concept at Thorntree Street and its befriending support programme, CARDS (Community Alcohol Related Damages Service).

Demand for accident and emergency services traditionally peaks between Boxing Day and December 29, with festive drinking cited as a particular pressure.

Helen Carlin, CEO of Rowan Alba, said: “For those who have a problematic relationship with alcohol, Christmas can be a particularly difficult time and we know that the demand on health care specialists, GPs, hospitals and mental health services rises significantly during and just after the festive season.

“Many of those with whom we work have endured years of social isolation, are disconnected from friends and family and some are at risk of exacerbating a problematic relationship with alcohol.

“Early interventions such as those provided by Rowan Alba can reduce the pressure on NHS resources by ensuring people are supported, less isolated and for some, have a home for life and a genuine sense of belonging.”

During December, alcohol consumption in the UK is estimated to increase by 41 per cent [1]. Alcohol abuse can lead to more than 60 health conditions – including heart disease, cancer and dementia.

Alcohol-specific deaths in Scotland rose to their highest level in more than a decade in 2020. There were 1,190 alcohol-specific deaths in Scotland in 2020, an increase of 17 per cent from 2019 and the highest number registered since 2008. [2]

Rowan Alba is urging people to support its services over the festive season so that they can provide vital social contact, safe and secure permanent accommodation, support with physical and emotional health and help with accepting and managing alcohol use for service users.

Helen Carlin concluded: “Edinburgh has one the highest number of live homelessness cases of any local authority area in Scotland.

“Drug and/or alcohol dependency amongst the homeless is most common among 35-49 year-olds and deaths among homeless people have risen by more than a third in just a year.

“We work with some of the most vulnerable people in the capital and we hope that Edinburgh residents will get behind our festive fundraising appeal, support a local charity which is embedded in their city and help us reach as many people as possible.

“Direct intervention can help keep people safe, thereby reducing the impact on NHS resources which are already stretched to the limit and beyond.”

  • £5 can pay for emergency telephone credit to support someone in hospital get their phone back up and running;
  • £10 can pay for a volunteer to support someone being discharged from hospital in ensuring they have a hot meal and essential supplies on their return home;
  • £15 can pay for emergency gas and electricity cards to heat someone’s home for them coming home;
  • £25 can pay for an overnight / hospital bag for someone who doesn’t own pyjamas, toiletries / washcloths and comfortable clothing to wear in hospital;
  • £50 can pay for volunteer expenses for a month of visits to prevent further admissions to hospital and the time to reconnect with their local GP;
  • £100 can pay for two visits per week for a month from a staff member to help those frequently attending hospital to link in with local services; and
  • £500 can pay for a staff member to spend time doing administration to secure proper adaptations to reduce falls, slips and hazards.

You can support Rowan Alba’s festive appeal at


For further information about Rowan Alba, please contact Gaynor Simpson on 07790 104073 or email

Notes for editors:

  • Rowan Alba was founded by Helen Carlin in 1997 and is one of the only organisations in the UK to offer a home for life. They provide services which help alleviate homelessness across Scotland, including homes for life and support to reduce social isolation through their volunteer befriending service, CARDS (Community Alcohol Related Damage Service).
  • Rowan Alba opened its first homes for life at Thorntree Street in 2004, providing secure tenancies to older people who have had a history of homelessness and a long-term history of problematic alcohol use.
  • The charity has since developed a number of services in Edinburgh which reduce the chances of people becoming homeless or, where this has happened, provide people with the ongoing care and support they need. All Rowan Alba services are framed around addressing social isolation, offering one to one support and accepting people as they are.
  • There were over 3,300 homeless households in Edinburgh in 2019/20, a five per cent increase on the previous year. Over 300 had experienced rough sleeping.
  • In 2019/20,  the number of homeless people housed in temporary accommodation in Edinburgh increased by 23 per cent.  (Scottish Government)
  • In 2019/20, there were 440 homeless people in the city requiring intensive support for complex needs. (Edinburgh City Council)
  • Deaths among homeless people have risen by more than a third in a year, with almost 1,000 unhoused people dying across the UK in 2020. 176 of these deaths were in Scotland. Less than three per cent of recorded causes of death were directly due to Covid-19 (The Dying Homeless Project, February 2020).
  • Scotland had the highest rate of homeless deaths in 2019, with a rate of 52.2 per million population aged 15-74, compared to 18 in England and 14.3 in Wales. (National Records of Scotland).
  • Alcohol-specific deaths in Scotland rose to their highest level in more than a decade in 2020. There were 1,190 alcohol-specific deaths in Scotland in 2020, an increase of 17 per cent from 2019 and the highest number registered since 2008. (National Records of Scotland (NRS), August 2021)
  • For the first time, Rowan Alba now has a hospital link worker based primarily at The Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh for an initial period of three years. The post is funded by The RS Macdonald Charitable Trust. The worker will partner with the NHS Alcohol Team to engage with at-risk, unsupported individuals at risk of alcohol harm while they are in hospital to link them with community support before they are discharged. This will improve their quality of life and reduce the need for crisis intervention.

[1] New Scientist, November 2016

[2] National Records of Scotland (NRS), August 2021

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