Blog: Think homelessness is just an urban issue? Think again.

The campaign team in Inverurie

The campaign team in Inverurie

Jessica Husbands takes Shelter Scotland’s Homelessness: Far From Fixed campaign on a tour round rural Scotland.

Living in a big city like Edinburgh or Glasgow, it’s pretty impossible to be unaware of homelessness. Sadly, many of us are used to seeing people rough sleeping, and have noticed the rise in rough sleepers over the past couple of years. But in rural areas homelessness can be more hidden.

Between September 2016 and April 2017, we took our flagship campaign, Homelessness: Far From Fixed, to towns and cities across Scotland. One year on, a review of the government’s homelessness statistics showed us that little had changed and every 19 minutes a household in Scotland becomes homeless. So we took our campaign back to the streets.

Our campaign is demanding:

  • A safe and affordable home for everyone
  • Help to be available for everyone to keep or find a home
  • A strong housing safety net to catch people if they lose their home
  • That no-one should ever have to sleep rough on our streets

In September, we found strong public support for a national action on homelessness in Dundee (despite the pouring rain) and Dumfries. Then we ventured further north.

Onwards to Peterhead

Onwards to Peterhead

So this week the Campaigns and Public Affairs team hit the road. Our destination? Inverurie, Peterhead and Elgin. Our purpose? To raise awareness of homelessness and support for joined up national and local government action.

We took our enormous snakes and ladders board – which always piques people’s interest and highlights the fact that homelessness is chance and not choice – and set up in Inverurie in the glamourous location next to the public toilet. Over the next three hours, we chatted to people with a range of knowledge and experience on the issues – including Roy, a former member of the armed forces who’d become homeless after leaving the army.

Post-stovies, we headed on to Peterhead. Peterhead is the largest town in Aberdeenshire, with a population of over 18,000 recorded in the last census. Data also shows that four of the seven areas in Aberdeenshire most affected by housing deprivation are in Peterhead[1]. So it’s fair to say I was expecting high levels of awareness about homelessness.

I was both right and wrong about that.

On one hand, I spoke to 12 people in the first hour we were in Peterhead, and of them, one was currently homeless, another had previous experience of homelessness, and a third was at immediate risk of becoming homelessness. They certainly didn’t need me to tell them that homelessness was still an issue across Aberdeenshire.

And finally, the team in Elgin

And finally, the team in Elgin

On the other hand, we also spoke to a couple of local councillors. One was unaware of the extent of the problem of homelessness in Peterhead. “It’s not like in Aberdeen,” he said, “there aren’t any rough sleepers here”. It wasn’t until we spoke at length to him about sofa surfing, temporary accommodation, and the 1,017 homelessness applications in Aberdeenshire in the past year, that he realised the extent of the issue.

And this highlights a very typical but incorrect assumption about homelessness. Far too often, homelessness is seen as synonymous with rough sleeping. Unfortunately, the issue is much larger than the very human tragedy of those who have to sleep on our streets. Homelessness includes those who are forced to sofa surf, stay in unsafe or unsuitable housing, and those in B&Bs and temporary accommodation.

Despite the high proportion of people I spoke to in Peterhead, Inverurie and Elgin who had personal experience of homelessness, there was a real range of views and awareness levels amongst the members of the public we spoke with. Away from big cities, homelessness is often hidden; and therefore not immediately visible to the people it doesn’t affect.

Shelter Scotland’s Far From Fixed campaign has successfully put homelessness on the national political agenda: Nicola Sturgeon recently announced a homelessness and rough sleeping action group, among other measures to tackle the issue. However, the issue of rough sleeping must not be viewed in isolation, the issue of homelessness is complex and inextricably linked to a lack of good quality, affordable housing. We hope to raise awareness about the many guises that homelessness can take, be it in Glasgow or Peterhead. Only when we recognise the breadth of the problem can we meaningfully address it.

  • Jessica Husbands is a campaigns and public affairs officer at Shelter Scotland

[1] https://www.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/media/19795/simd16-aberdeenshire-final-report.pdf, page 21