It’s now time for action on homelessness

Written by Graeme Brown on 21 June 2018 in Comment

Figures showing the first rise in homelessness for almost a decade should start alarm bells ringing in St Andrew's House

Image credit: PA

Shelter Scotland have been voicing our concerns for many years that homelessness in Scotland is far from fixed and that progress in preventing this human tragedy was stalling. Sadly, the latest national homelessness statistics from the Scottish Government bear this out, showing the first rise in homelessness for almost a decade.

These latest numbers are simply shocking and should start alarm bells ringing in Holyrood and St Andrew's House.

Every 18 minutes a household was made homeless in Scotland last year with 34,972 homelessness applications.  Even more concerning is that for the fourth year in a row the number of homeless children living in temporary accommodation has risen – up nine per cent to 6,615. Add to that the fact that people are having to stay longer in temporary accommodation with their lives in limbo, and you can see why we think there is a major crisis which needs immediate action and resources now.

Another indication that the housing safety net isn’t working for many people is the fact that, last year, there were more than 400 instances of families spending longer than the law says they should in unsuitable temporary accommodation. This means that every day in Scotland last year, the law was broken, by sometimes months at a time. 280 of these breaches were in Edinburgh. It is notable and concerning that there is no tangible or clearly understood consequence for those who broke this law whilst the people at the sharp end suffer in unsuitable accommodation.

This is clear evidence that the legal right to a home does not always equal a good home in reality. The good progress we have seen in recent years is now being reversed and bad housing and homelessness is blighting the lives of more and more people in Scotland – robbing them of their health, security and a fair chance in life.

However, things in the homelessness sector have been anything but quiet lately. With the parliamentary inquiry into homelessness at the start of the year, refreshed commitments from the Scottish Government to tackle homelessness and bad housing, along with the launch of the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group and the creation of the £50m Ending Homelessness Together Fund and the establishment of taskforces in Glasgow and Edinburgh, Scotland is finally taking homelessness seriously. While this is welcome, there is now expectation from across the sector and beyond that this political will to act must translate into action that swiftly makes a real and lasting difference to the lives of people experiencing homelessness.

And it is the people behind the statistics who really matter here. Last year, our advisers helped over 21,000 people, including many people facing homelessness, who often had no idea of their rights or what the law says.

We know there is unrivalled momentum in the sector to make homelessness a thing of the past. But despite all the good rhetoric, the ideas and the innovation, we need to now focus on the action for change. Enough talk. We need more resource, more funding and, ultimately, better results for the people we are currently failing. Scotland can and must do better. It’s now time to match our rhetoric and ambition with action.

Graeme Brown is director of Shelter Scotland

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