Have you heard about the man sleeping rough on the streets of Dundee to raise money and awareness for the homeless?
His name is Richard – or Richie – Roncero, a recovering addict who has been clean for nine years.
And so far, he’s raised more than £200,000 for his charity Steps to Hope by rough sleeping in cities from Inverness to Blackpool, Belfast to Cardiff and Manchester – with his final stint in Dundee happening as you read this.
I was asked by BBC’s Sunday Morning Live show to spend a day with Richie and I realised that what he is doing is nothing short of heroic.
For what does sleeping rough for eight weeks mean?
Does he have a secret wad of cash he can dip into?
Does he have a hotel stay now and then?
The answer is no.
It may have almost broken him on occasion, but Richie has spent December and January – while most had shelter from the red and and amber weather warnings of wind, ice and snow – on the streets of the UK.
He has been told to go back to his own country (he’s from Edinburgh), been urinated next to, threatened with a glass bottle, told to start paying taxes.
Sleeping on the streets is hard
Thankfully none of these things happened on our watch in Dundee but no matter where he goes, he feels humiliated and unseen, every day for two months as he begs for money to survive.
And every night he has bedded down in his sleeping bag in the shelter of a doorway or hidden alcove, too scared at times to move because he’s so cold and sore.
He has spent Christmas and his birthday on the streets, alone, at times has wondered what the heck he’s doing.
Then he remembers the heroin addicts who he met in his charity’s soup kitchens, who are now in recovery and volunteering to help others.
He remembers the flat he’s renovating in Edinburgh, funded in part by his last fundraiser on the streets a couple of years ago, to help people who – like him, although he was never homeless – want to get better and fight addiction.
People who, like him, thought the only way out at times was ending their life – to give hope.
Along the way, he’s posted on Facebook Live and referred people he’s met to his charity – and bought clothes or food to help those who need it urgently.
To anyone who’s offered him a hotel for the night, he’s asked them to donate instead to his Just Giving page.
He’s inspired others to raise money too – with the likes of the High School of Dundee raising more than £7,000 so far for his charity, with Richie meeting the 70 pupils camping out overnight for the cause.
Let’s show Richie how warm Dundee is
In Inverness, word spread through social and mainstream media quickly that Richie, 40, had chosen to come all the way up to their city and he was treated like a hero.
In Dundee, he has been shown the kindness of amazing souls like Barbara and Kirsty at Parish Nursing Steeple Church, Mike at Eagles Wings Trust and all their volunteers, many of whom once were homeless or in the depths of addiction, or both.
They give the companionship, advice and food that can be a lifeline.
It was a revelation to see what goes on to help others in our city.
On Saturday, Richie completes his task. I feel humbled to have spent a day with him and that he chose our city as his final hurdle.
If you see him on Reform Street or around our city centre, what would make all the difference – what he says has sometimes gets him through the day – is a smile, an acknowledgement he’s real and seen.
Let’s show him how warm our city is.
Let’s treat him like the very special person he is.
As I bid him good night on Monday, Richie said: “You know Martel if someone offered me – myself – £200,000 to do this for eight weeks I’d say no.
“It’s been hell. But I’m not doing it for me. That’s the thing that keeps me going.”