Blog: A wake-up call on homelessness – enough talking, it’s time for action

Aoife Deery

Aoife Deery, policy officer at Shelter Scotland, writes on the latest homelessness statistics.

Yesterday’s statistics paint a depressing picture. Homelessness applications are on the rise again for the first time in nine years. Temporary accommodation use has increased for the fourth year in a row, and there are now 6,615 children living in temporary accommodation – meaning 577 more children than last year are spending the night somewhere they can’t call home. Over the course of the year, families spent longer than the law says they should in unsuitable temporary accommodation over 400 times. Just to re-affirm, 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. And yet there is no consequence for those who broke this law.

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 £50million Ending Homelessness Together Fund and the establishment of taskforces in Glasgow and Edinburgh, Scotland is taking homelessness seriously. It’s safe to say that there is huge expectation from across the sector and beyond that these actions make real and long-lasting difference to the lives of people experiencing homelessness.

The people behind the statistics are who really matter. Last year, tens of thousands of households went through the trauma of homelessness. Our advisers have helped over 21,000 people last year, including many people facing homelessness, who often had no idea of their rights or what the law says.

In Edinburgh, we repeatedly told the newly formed Homelessness Taskforce of the problems being experienced by hundreds of families who had no option but to bring their children into often unsafe, unclean temporary accommodation, with little or no cooking and washing facilities. Last month, the Taskforce published a report recommending a total end to the use of B&Bs for families. It is crucial that these recommendations are put in place urgently.

So where does this leave us? The upturn in homelessness applications tells us that the Housing Options approach is no longer enough. We need to focus on the underlying drivers of homelessness and invest properly to address these, as we’ve been pointing out for years. Drivers such as unmet support needs, child poverty and more recently, welfare reform, which is having a particular impact on the ability of families to stay in the private rented sector. And we need to make sure that people are supported in, and out, of good quality temporary accommodation as quickly as possible.

We know that 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 get to the crux of the problem and do it now. Enough talk, more action, more resources, and better results for the people who matter most.