Church leader urges governments to do more to tackle ‘damning indictment’ of homelessness in Scotland

Rev Dr Russell Barr
Rev Dr Russell Barr

The scale of homelessness in Scotland is a “damning indictment” on modern society and politicians must do much more to tackle the problem, a Church leader has said.

Rev Dr Russell Barr, the incoming moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, said it was “obscene” that so many people were without safe and secure accommodation and challenged the Scottish and UK governments to act.

The 62-year-old, who founded the Edinburgh-based charity Fresh Start which helps people who have been homeless to make a home for themselves, said the issue was one of the greatest challenges of modern times.

Dr Barr, who will serve as the Church’s ambassador at home and abroad for the next 12 months, said the Scottish Government must deliver on promises to build at least 50,000 more affordable homes over the next five years.

He said reducing the level of homelessness in Edinburgh and across the country would help drive up health and education standards.

“Homelessness is a damning indictment on modern society,” added Dr Barr.

“It is a disgrace and should not happen in the UK which is the fifth richest economy in the world.

“We worry about health and education and one of the best ways to improve standards is to ensure that people are properly and safely accommodated.

“Tackling the obscenity of homelessness must be a key priority for the Scottish and UK governments because if you believe in a progressive, modern Scotland you must make sure that people are properly housed.

“The government in Scotland must keep its promises and deliver on pledges to build more affordable homes.”

The Moderator Designate’s call comes after three homelessness charities, Crisis, Glasgow City Mission and the Bethany Christian Trust, said demand for their respective shelters rose by 94 per cent in Glasgow and 38 per cent in Edinburgh in 2015-16 compared to last year.

Official statistics show that 35,764 homeless applications were made to local authorities across Scotland in 2014-15.

Dr Barr was inspired to set up Fresh Start in 1999 after meeting a homeless man called Sam who had been allocated a flat but could not afford to buy cutlery, crockery, pots and pans or bed linen.

“Meeting this chap was a lightbulb moment and I realised we had to do something really practical,” he said.

“He needed help to turn that flat into a home because what he had in the street beside him was all that he had in the world.”

The ecumenical charity, which employs 18 people, also provides food and offers cookery classes and lessons on budgeting and growing fruit and vegetables.

Over the last 16 years Fresh Start has distributed several tens of thousands of starter and food packs and helped people renovate over 1,000 flats

Dr Barr said he was proud of the progress that the charity, which is supported by more than 80 congregations in Edinburgh, had made but lamented that a “perfect storm” of benefit cuts, low wages and an affordable housing shortage meant homelessness was a growing problem.

He said it was shocking and disgraceful that more than 4,000 homeless applications were made in the city in 2014-15.

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