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Homelessness crisis 'going nowhere fast' as households in temporary accommodation rise

Housing provided by the charity Social Bite in Granton, Edinburgh

Homelessness crisis 'going nowhere fast' as households in temporary accommodation rise

The Scottish Government has been warned that the homelessness crisis "is going nowhere fast" as figures showed an increase in the number of households in temporary accommodation.

The data, published by the chief statistician, showed 13,097 households were in temporary accommodation at 31 March of this year, an increase of 12 per cent compared to 11,665 at 31 March 2020. It reached a peak of 14,151 at 30 September 2020.

Temporary accommodation can include bed and breakfasts, hostels and social sector accommodation.

However, the number of applications for homelessness assistance fell to 33,792, which was a decrease of 3,251 when compared with 2019-20.

There were 27,571 households assessed as homeless or threatened with homelessness – a drop of 4,010 (13 per cent).

Although the number of applications fell, there was also a reduction in the number of cases closed.

As a result, the number of open homelessness cases at 31 March 2021 reached 25,226, a 10 per cent increase when compared to 31 March 2020. This peaked at 27,058 at 30 September 2020.

This was the first annual homelessness statistics report for which COVID-19 restrictions were in place for the full period.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats said mental health and job support was needed to tackle the problem of homelessness in Scotland.

Paul McGarry, the party's housing spokesman, said: "The number of people living in temporary accommodation show that Scotland’s homelessness crisis is going nowhere fast. The numbers have skyrocketed.

"As the pandemic becomes less about an immediate emergency in our hospitals, attention needs to shift to the other issues that have been stored up during lockdown. Whether it’s living on the streets, sofa-surfing or shuttling between temporary accommodation, these unstable living arrangements take a huge toll on people’s mental and physical health.

"People need to be supported so that those in unstable living situations aren’t thrown from temporary accommodation back towards a place where they can’t cope. Mental health support needs to be bolstered and new pathways for jobs and training need to be introduced so that people have safer and more secure long term prospects.

"Scotland has been struggling to cope with its homelessness crisis for years. A roof over your head should be the bare minimum."

Ashleigh Simpson, head of policy and communications for Scotland at Crisis, praised the progress made in supporting people off the streets and into safe self-contained accommodation. 

However, she said action is needed to help those in temporacy accommodation into "safe and settled homes". 

She said: "While we’ve seen extraordinary progress in ending rough sleeping in Scotland over the last year or so, the response was only ever a short-term solution, which has led to record numbers of people living in temporary accommodation. We need action to ensure these people are supported quickly into safe and settled homes.

"Scotland has some of the best protections for people experiencing homelessness in the world, but far too many people are being forced to leave their homes. 

"It doesn’t have to be this way. The best way to end homelessness is to stop people from losing their accommodation in the first place – that’s why we want the Scottish Government and MSPs from every party to come together to change the law around homelessness prevention, so that people get the support they need, when they need it."

The Scottish Government's housing secretary Shona Robison said: "We introduced protections to prevent evictions, which have contributed to a 42 per cent reduction in homelessness applications from the private rented sector. 

"As recently as last week we announced a £10m grant fund to support tenants who are struggling as a direct result of the pandemic.  

"We also saw a huge effort by partners to work collectively and move hundreds of people from the streets and night shelters into a place of safety. The number of people sleeping rough in the areas where it was concentrated is now at a record low.

"Although this has contributed to an increase in the numbers in temporary accommodation, our utmost objective now is to step up our work with councils to ensure people are supported into permanent settled accommodation. We are investing £37.5m to support councils to prioritise settled accommodation for all.

"I am glad we are starting to see reductions in number of open homeless cases and in the number of households in temporary accommodation since peaks in September 2020.   

"We have pledged an extra £50m to end homelessness and rough sleeping. Our updated Ending Homelessness Together action plan, published with COSLA in October 2020, renews our commitment and is strongly endorsed by stakeholders."

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