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‘I’m so proud of Inverness’: Charity campaigner speaks of experience of sleeping on Highland city’s streets

Richie Roncero has been in Inverness as part of his sleep rough campaign which has raised tens of thousands of pounds for charity

Richie Roncero, founder and Director of Steps to Hope on Church Street, Inverness. , Sandy McCook/DC Thomson
Richie Roncero, founder and Director of Steps to Hope on Church Street, Inverness. , Sandy McCook/DC Thomson

Other cities in the UK should follow the example of Inverness in their treatment of rough sleepers, a charity campaigner has said.

Richie Roncero was full of praise for the public of Inverness for their response towards him while sleeping on the city’s streets as part of a bid to raise awareness of what rough sleepers face.

Richie is the founder and director of Steps to Hope, an Edinburgh charity which works to help homeless people and those suffering with addiction.

He decided to embark on the campaign after the charity purchased a 10-bedroom property in Edinburgh – Hope House – with the aim of renovating it. So far he has raised more than £160,000 for the charity.

The eight weeks in eight different cities campaign, which is raising funds for the work on Hope House, has meant he spent Christmas away from home – he was in Cardiff on Christmas Day itself. While two days later he marked his own nine-year anniversary of recovery from addiction to cocaine and alcohol – with a sweet treat from Greggs.

He plans to do the same for his birthday on Tuesday (January 30) which will see him mark his 40th while on the streets of Dundee.

Richie in Inverness. Supplied by Richie Roncero.

What is the sleep rough campaign about?

The cities were all voted for by the charity’s social media followers. He started in Glasgow, before moving on to Belfast, Cardiff, Blackpool, Manchester, Newcastle, and  Inverness. He will soon leave the Highland capital for Dundee before finishing the campaign on February 3 and heading home to Edinburgh.

In each city he has spent a week rough sleeping and begging to survive.

Richie told us: “I celebrated my ninth year of recovery whilst on the sleep rough campaign. I’m the founder of Steps to Hope; when I got clean and sober I wanted to make recovery more visible, and make a much clearer, easier pathway for people to access recovery, and that’s what Steps to Hope has achieved.

“Steps to Hope purchased a 10-bedroom property and as a result of that we’ve actually closed our recovery programme down in Edinburgh because it’s such a big move, and we are aiming to relaunch it in this new property, but there’s a lot of work that needs done to it. So being closed and needing to generate funds with the aim to increase capacity, I decided to embark on an eight-week UK sleep rough campaign

“I’m here to raise funds for the new Hope House residential programme, but also to try and raise awareness and show the public the harsh realities of rough sleepers. By doing that I’ve been documenting daily on social media live videos, talking about what I’ve experienced, what I’ve seen, what I’ve witnessed, and just the struggles I’ve been through.”

Richie’s campaign is drawing to a close and he will leave Inverness for Dundee. Sandy McCook/DC Thomson

What was Richie Roncero’s experience of Inverness?

Richie has been documenting his experiences over the past few weeks on social media, with his recent posts having a reach of around 1.3 million. By the time he arrived in Inverness people had started to recognise him.

Richie said: “I feel like the campaign has come to a bit of a grinding halt, because I’m getting recognised everywhere! When I got on the train, two people recognised me on the way to Inverness. Every day, people have been handing me money. I’ve not had to do any begging while I’ve been here, and I think that’s probably because the campaign is out there now.”

He also said the response he received there was “amazing”.

Richie told us: “‘I’m absolutely blown away by the fact there’s no rough sleepers here in Inverness and it’s so heart-warming and refreshing. I was speaking to two locals and they were telling me that Inverness just will not have, like the residents of Inverness, will not have rough sleepers. If someone appears to be rough sleeping everyone rallies round – and it’s just not acceptable here.

“I just find that absolutely mind blowing and amazing. I’m just so proud of Inverness. I’ve been around every other city in the UK and that is not the case, there’s rows and rows and rows of people sleeping with no roof over their head. So I can only applaud Inverness for what I’m seeing.”

Richie Roncero, founder and director of Steps to Hope, beside the old High church in Inverness. Sandy McCook/DC Thomson

What are the services like in Inverness?

Someone else who was begging told Richie about Cafe 1668, a social cafe on Church Street, which offers support to those in need and he was able to go and get lunch there for free. However, Richie says he did think services in the city were perhaps not visible enough.

“I do know there is services here – I’m trying to be as authentic as possible, I’m trying to go by word of mouth. I’m struggling; I know there’s services here but they’re just not as visible as I would have liked.”

“Inverness is probably the smallest city I’ve come to visit; obviously the major cities, that’s naturally where people would tend to migrate. All the other major cities – up and down the street there’s just sleeping bags. I’m very impressed with Inverness, I wish other cities would take a leaf out of their book.”

Having started on December 5, the experience has shown Richie just how hard it can be for those on the streets. Not only in terms of being exposed to the elements, but also other people’s attitudes.

He explained: “I’ve come out with not one pound in my pocket on December 5, and I’ve been begging to survive, and it’s just shown how difficult small simple things are. From trying to get inside somewhere, I’ve been shivering in a sleeping bag at 4am, absolutely shattered, like physically and mentally exhausted. But I’m so cold that I need to get out my bag and start running around the block – and moving and walking and waiting for premises to open so that I can get inside, use the bathroom and get a hot drink.”

Richie Roncero on the train on the way to Inverness. Supplied by Richie Roncero/Steps to Hope.

What has Richie encountered elsewhere?

He said: “Last week I experienced minus four temperatures in Newcastle with snow on my sleeping bag.

“It’s just been the public response whilst I’ve been out there; it has been really hard to watch the judgment by the passers by. I’ve been told to get a job, to go back to my own country, someone threatened that they were going to do me in.

“I’ve also watched other homeless people get mistreated as well. On occasions, I’ve actually stood up and explained what I’m doing and tried to give them a voice and highlight that their behaviour towards that human being is completely wrong.

“It’s very depressing out here, very lonely, isolated. Just that social connection, you miss it. What’s been great is finding homeless services and being able to use their facilities. That’s definitely helped my mental health and been vital to my survival, because they’ve been feeding me and letting me shower there.”

Pictured is Richie’s sleeping bag in Newcastle. Supplied by Richie Roncero/Steps to Hope.

When will Richie go to Dundee?

Steps to Hope runs soup kitchens on a Sunday and Monday where it offers three-course meals to anyone who is homeless and or suffering from addiction. Its recovery programme, which is run by those with lived experience, involves a daily schedule which residents will follow where they learn about addiction and recovery.

The charity has been working with Balfour Beatty on its Hope House project and would like to build a five-bedroom property on-site so it can increase the programme from 10 beds to 15.

Richie will begin the final stretch of his journey in Dundee on Friday, and said: “Next week while I’m in Dundee, I’ll be celebrating my 40th on the streets. I celebrated my ninth recovery birthday with a pink jammie from Greggs – so I might do the same for my 40th and get myself a pink jammie as well!

And he admits he “can’t wait” to get home and see his loved ones.

He added: “I’m just I’m so grateful to have a home that I can return to and this is not my true reality.”

For more information about the charity go to

Richie in Newcastle. Supplied by Richie Roncero/Steps to Hope.