If alarm bells weren’t already ringing in Holyrood about homelessness, they should be now.
That was the verdict of Graeme Brown, Shelter Scotland’s director, following the release of the bi-annual homelessness statistics from the Scottish Government.
Scottish local authorities received 18,486 applications for homelessness assistance during the six months between April 1, 2018 and September 30, 2018, two per cent higher than the same period during 2017.
And the number of children in temporary accommodation increased by 245 to 6826, up four per cent compared with the same date one year ago.
The increase in homelessness applications follows a period of decreasing numbers of applications, beginning around spring 2010.
The downward trend has levelled out since 2015 and slowed down over the last couple of years.
And it’s for that reason Graeme is now calling for the Scottish Parliament to sit up and take notice.
He said: “These figures are bad news for anyone facing homelessness in Scotland today.
“If alarm bells weren’t already ringing in Holyrood they should be now.
“Homelessness continues to increase – with even more children now living in homeless temporary accommodation compared to last year and families having to stay longer in temporary accommodation with their lives in limbo.
“And with hundreds of breaches of the unsuitable accommodation order and households being turned away from temporary accommodation they are entitled to thousands of times, it is clear there is a housing emergency in Scotland.
“This is more evidence that the good progress on homelessness we’ve seen in recent years is being eroded.
“Homelessness is blighting the lives of even more people – robbing them of their health, security and a fair chance in life.
“We know homelessness can’t be solved overnight and we welcome the recent focus on homelessness from the Scottish Government.
“But it is now time for urgent action from all areas of local and national government to work together better to tackle and prevent homelessness in Scotland.
“Councils need to be properly resourced to deal with this unacceptable rise in homelessness.”
According to Graeme, working in partnership is key to addressing the issues.
He said: “Since 2016, there has been a 14 per cent increase in the number of children living in temporary accommodation.
“Mothers with children are spending far too long in bed and breakfasts.
“We need to understand why that’s happening.
“There is no doubt that cuts in welfare since 2010 and further changes to the benefits system, such as Universal Credit, have played their part.
“These changes have caused significant problems.
“But people are also coming to us with a series of problems, not just debt.
“We’re seeing an increase in the number of people with mental health and substance abuse issues, reported in all of our bases across Scotland.
“But we also see people who lose their homes due to relationship breakdowns, zero hour contracts and wages stagnating, coupled with rising rents in the private sector and in local authority and housing associations.
“We do have progressive legislation here in Scotland in terms of dealing with homelessness.
“But there’s a gap between the legislation and what local authorities are delivering because their budgets are also under pressure.
“All of these problems are adding to the homelessness picture in Scotland.
“We are a nation of 5.5 million people with 32 local authorities and 14 regional health boards.
“We need to consider whether there’s a better way of organising our services, whether that be in the health or local authority sector, to bring them together.
“We are a long way from having an integrated service in Scotland. That’s why we ended up helping 21,000 people last year.
“The government will say it has set aside £50 million to tackle the problem.
“But we don’t need groups of experts talking about the problem – we need action on the ground, not rhetoric.”
Shelter Scotland’s 50th anniversary is now drawing to a close. The charity did not treat the milestone as a cause for celebration but rather a chance to highlight ongoing issues with its We’re Still Fighting campaign.
Graeme said: “We’d far rather Shelter Scotland did not exist but the charity’s work is, sadly, far from done.”
To mark the end of the year-long campaign, a special event was staged at Dynamic Earth this week.
And in a unique project with the Glasgow School of Art, students have taken a series of telling prints which paint a picture of homelessness in Scotland.
Graeme added: “From 1969 to 1972, Nick Hedges was employed by Shelter to photograph abject living conditions in poor quality housing in the UK.
“As part of our 50th anniversary, we asked Glasgow School of Art students to depict homelessness, 50 years on. Their images are now on tour around Scotland.
“Their work paints a very clear and striking picture of what it looks like to be homeless in Scotland today.”
Home Truths brings 50th anniversary campaign to a close
An event was organised to mark the close of Shelter Scotland’s 50th anniversary We’re Still Fighting campaign.
Home Truths at Edinburgh’s Dynamic Earth on February 28 was billed as an evening of radical thinking on housing and homelessness.
Writer and commentator Val McDermid, Community Justice Scotland chief Karyn McCluskey and Professor Alan Miller, past chair of the First Minister’s advisory panel on human rights leadership, shared their thoughts on how to address Scotland’s housing crisis and achieve social justice.
Chaired by award-winning journalist, Pennie Taylor, the event brought together leaders from across the public, private and third sectors in Scotland.
By invitation only, some 250 people attended.
Graeme said: “It was a genuinely thought-provoking and challenging evening of debate and discussion on how we can better tackle our housing crisis and more meaningfully deliver social justice in Scotland.”
As part of a series of events to mark Shelter Scotland’s 50th anniversary year, a photography exhibition has also been created by student photographers from the department of Communication Design at the Glasgow School of Art, to tell Shelter’s story, as well as those of the people it supports and the impact of the current housing crisis.
Launched in Glasgow on December 3, it moved to Aberdeen on January 28.
From March 5 to 8, it will visit the Usual Place in Dumfries before heading to The Steeple in Dundee from March 13 to 17 and Edinburgh’s Central Library from March 26 to 30.
To find out more, visit scotland.shelter.org.uk.