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Looking Back: Pavement Without A Pillow

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Looking back to July 1962 and a night time reflection in Glasgow.

By Glen Gibson

“It’s at night that loneliness really hits you”


I wandered the streets of Glasgow at night. I was lucky. I had a home to go to. I had a pillow for my head. I knew a welcome awaited me.

Everybody isn’t so lucky. But the unlucky ones, were, to me, anonymous, faceless; as they are to most of us citizens who crowd these same pavements on the way to work.

A great city by day has too many people in it. At night, you see human beings; rounded three-dimensional characters. It’s when the ebb-tide of population has receded to suburban sleep that the bleak foreshore of city pavement reveals the driftwood.

The dead-beats, the down-and-outs, the criminals, the prostitutes I had expected. These no longer shock. It was the others who really shook me.

The people wandering the streets because they’re afraid to go home. Folk who can speak to no one, until desperation drives out enough fear and they hesitantly approach a policeman, or as often as not a policewoman.

Then the whole unhappy story is poured out and a chain of events is set in motion which is summed up laconically in a police report. Like this:

“Woman (19) found in greatly distressed condition. Believed she may attempt suicide. It was learned she had been associating with a married man and was pregnant to him. When she told the man of her condition, a quarrel ensued and he drove off in his car, leaving her in the street. Woman was afraid to go home and requested help from policewoman in informing mother of her condition. Mother subsequently interviewed and told of position – both women then reunited.”

A whole human drama in a few lines in a police notebook. What a wealth of human experience behind these simple words – “both women then reunited”.

Tribute must be paid here to the work of so many members of the police force who go “the second mile” in the name of humanity. One policewoman told me of the hours she’d spent in one girl’s home straightening out a domestic tangle.

Don’t forget – all the police have to do is provide bodily protection for us citizens.

A more noticeable feature of the city’s night life now is the number of younger teen-age girls who run away from home after a quarrel.

They quickly find that Glasgow by night is not the glamorous place they thought it was, nor are some of the men who seemed so attractive at first.

Who are these “men of the night” anyway?

Many are otherwise respectable married men who will sit behind an office-desk in the morning.

So many of the individuals who tramp the night streets of Glasgow have one thing in common. Trouble at home. Not all the night-walkers are problem people. Often they are the victims of home circumstances. But how is their need to be met?

There are many agencies doing essential rescue work. The police, the lodging house mission, the Salvation Army, a variety of hostels and homes of one kind and another. There are the probation officers, the Prisoner’s Aid people, the After-Care officers.

The Church of Scotland shares in much of this work. But it’s important to realise that not all of it concerns the down-and-out and the alcoholic – the class of people we first think of.

Many folk today are broken, bewildered and defeated by the circumstances of daily life. They belong to all classes of society. It is for all these people that the Church opened last month a centre in Glasgow with the rather awesome title of a Rehabilitation Centre. It’s at 23 Elmbank Street.

The idea was born after the Central Glasgow Churches Campaign some years ago. It had been in the mind of the Central Committee of the Woman’s Guild. It was given focus by the Rev Tom Allan and those with him in the Campaign.

Glasgow presbytery is behind it; the Assembly’s Social Service Committee was called in along with the Women’s Committee on Temperance and Morals. The congregation of St George’s Tron have promised £1,000 a year.

Under Matron Mis Helen Robson (formerly of the Home for Unmarried Mothers) two social workers will be on the permanent staff.

In the centre are six cubicles for temporary accommodation for people in need. A residential hostel for longer periods is provided at 91 West Princes Street.

But a “bed for the night” is the least of the help that can be given. Long-term assistance with all the resources of the Church and social services will be available for all who finally realise that the pavements of Glasgow afford no resting place for a restless heart.