Charities call for action as demand for rough sleeping shelters rises

crisis homelessThree homelessness charities are calling for action from the next Scottish Government as new figures show that demand for winter shelters in Glasgow and Edinburgh rose sharply in 2015/16.

Crisis, Glasgow City Mission and the Bethany Christian Trust are raising the alarm after demand for their respective shelters rose by 94 per cent in Glasgow and 38 per cent in Edinburgh compared to last year.

Glasgow City Mission reported being full on 32 nights in 2015/16 – something which never happened in previous years. An average of 33 people used the shelter on any one night compared to just 17 in 2014/15. Meanwhile, the Bethany Christian Trust in Edinburgh has seen demand rise by 131 per cent since 2013, with an average of 48 people using the shelter on any night during winter 2015/16.

As the shelters close for the season, the charities warn that the figures could be a sign of rising rough sleeping, and call on all parties to support Crisis’ manifesto and make tackling homelessness a priority for the next parliament.

The recent Manifesto to End Homelessness by Crisis includes a series of recommendations for the next Scottish Government to follow.

It called on all political parties to adopt a new cross-departmental strategy for tackling homelessness and commit to investing in a more proactive approach to prevention. The charity also urged Holyrood to increase support for homeless people with complex needs, put a limit on the amount of time homeless people spend in temporary accommodation and to commit to using devolved powers on social security to prevent homelessness.

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, said: “Scotland has blazed a trail in the fight against homelessness, yet these startling figures cannot be ignored. We know from official figures that around 660 people sleep rough on Scotland’s streets on any typical night, and we are concerned that the situation may have worsened in recent months. There is no room for complacency, which is why we are calling for decisive action from the next Scottish Government to help all homeless people.

“Our manifesto already has cross-party support, and we welcome the ongoing commitment to tackle the devastating injustice of homelessness. Yet we need this to be followed up with action and we look forward to working with all parties to continue the fight after the election in May.”

Iain Gordon, chief executive of Bethany Christian Trust, said: “A great deal of progress has already been made in tackling homelessness in Scotland. However, the combination of a shortage of affordable homes, welfare reform and budget pressures mean that homelessness is still a very pressing issue in our country. I appeal to all political parties to use the new powers coming to the Scottish Government to maximise the benefits of devolution so people don’t have to face a devastating and avoidable homelessness crisis.”

Grant Campbell, chief executive of Glasgow City Mission, added: “The Scottish population clearly care a great deal about people caught up in homelessness. We’ve witnessed this in the way hundreds of supporters and volunteers have helped us deliver this much needed service, and for that we’re very grateful.

“We’ve witnessed a significant rise in demand for the Glasgow Winter Night Shelter, and behind every statistic is a person, a mother, father, son or daughter. We believe there is a significant opportunity with the upcoming elections, with public demand and political will for Holyrood, local authorities and service providers to work collaboratively to put an end to homelessness. This is not just an issue around housing, but health also, and we should assume and be prepared for solutions which require a brave, determined and concerted effort by all.”

Responding to the call for action, Maggie Chapman, co-convener of the Scottish Greens and housing spokesperson, said: “We need urgent action on homelessness. It is a disgrace that we still have people without a home in the 21st century, and in one of the wealthiest countries in the world.

“We must tackle the causes of homelessness: cuts to social care and mental health services, the increasing precarity of employment, and the high cost of housing. Scottish Greens are committed to fighting for positive change on all of these issues, to deal with homelessness in a holistic way.

“We must make sure our houses are used as homes, not as commodities for financial speculation.”

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