Scottish homelessness charity plans village of low-cost eco homes

The Scottish charity Social Bite, which has attracted celebrity support from the Oscar winners George Clooney and Leonardo DiCaprio, has announced plans to build a row of low-cost, eco-friendly homes to help end the vicious cycle of homelessness.

The social enterprise, which runs a chain of sandwich shops across Scotland that train and employ homeless staff, is planning to construct 10 purpose-built houses in Granton, in the north of Edinburgh, in partnership with the council.

About 20 residents will stay in the supervised “village” environment – with access to counselling, addiction therapy and budgeting advice – for up to a year before moving on to more permanent accommodation.

Social Bite’s founder, Josh Littlejohn, said that, since starting the enterprise more than four years ago, he had come to realise that providing job opportunities only met one of homeless people’s multiple needs.

By providing an alternative to the “isolating” bed and breakfast accommodation on offer, which can cost Edinburgh city council up to £17,155 a person annually, the Social Bite Village will offer a more structured way for people to reintegrate into residential living, as well as saving the taxpayer money.

Leonardo DiCaprio at Social Bite’s restaurant Home in Edinburgh

Leonardo DiCaprio at Social Bite’s restaurant Home in Edinburgh this month. Photograph: Jeff Holmes/Getty Images

Littlejohn said: “The Social Bite Village plan hopes to create a full-circle solution to the issue of homelessness – from housing to support to employment. I’m not for a minute saying that Social Bite alone will eradicate homelessness or anywhere close to that. But we can create a blueprint.”

The homes, which will cost about £30,000 each to construct, are based on the highly insulated modular NestHouse developed by the designer Jonathan Avery and his Linlithgow-based company Tiny House Scotland. Each energy-efficient dwelling will contain two bedrooms, a lounge area and a small kitchen, as well as a wood-burning fire.

Construction is scheduled to begin in early 2017, with the first residents moving in by the summer, with Social Bite also aiming to provide them with employment in the company’s other businesses.

Leonardo DiCaprio visits homeless charity in Edinburgh

Founded in 2012, the Social Bite sandwich chain operates a “suspended” coffee and food programme – where customers can pay for a hot drink or food for a homeless person to have later. A quarter of its workforce were once homeless.

The company recently teamed up with the Edinburgh restaurant Maison Bleue to open a new venue, Home, which last week hosted DiCaprio.

In 2015, George Clooney accepted a similar invitation to visit the social enterprise, where he avoided the more traditionally Scottish haggis sandwich filling in favour of an avocado, pesto and pepper wrap.

A number of Scottish business leaders are backing the Social Bite Village and will take part in a CEO sleep-out on 15 December in Edinburgh to kickstart ta campaign to raise the £500,000 needed to set up the project.

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