Homelessness ‘a stain on Scotland’s character and consciousness’, says former Church of Scotland moderator

Outgoing Moderator Very Rev Russell Barr – image by Andrew O’Brien
Outgoing moderator Very Rev Russell Barr – image by Andrew O’Brien

A former moderator of the Church of Scotland has said the scale of homelessness in Scotland continues to be a “stain” on the nation’s character and consciousness.

Speaking at the General Assembly in Edinburgh over the weekend, Very Rev Dr Russell Barr said the situation was “galling” and there should be “no room” for homelessness in 21st century Scotland.

He urged commissioners at the annual gathering to “speak with one voice” to send a clear message to political leaders who appear to lack the will to eradicate the societal scourge.

Dr Barr told the General Assembly that in the year to March 2016, official statistics showed there were 34,662 homelessness applications to Scotland’s 32 local authorities of which 82% - 28,226 - were assessed as homeless.

He said the figures were “little different” from what they were 25 years ago when he established Fresh Start, an Edinburgh-based charity which helps people who were homeless turn a new tenancy into a home.

He added that the proportion of applications assessed as homeless had increased steadily from 72% in 2004-05.

A total of 5,751 pre-school and school aged children were registered as homeless as of September last year - a 17% increase on 2015.

Speaking in the presence of Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal, Dr Barr said: “Homelessness has been one of the themes of my year.

“Although there is much to be proud of not just in Scotland’s past and its present – we are in large part an open, welcoming, inclusive, humane and tolerant society – the numbers of people homeless continues to be a stain on our nation’s character and consciousness.

“Whether in New York, Toronto, London, or throughout Scotland, I have visited a number of projects, many of them church based, supporting people who are homeless.

“I have spoken at conferences, written articles, appeared on radio and television, consulted with a whole range of homelessness charities, engaged with civil servants.

“And as every national or local politician I met would confirm, including Her Majesty the Queen, I have taken every opportunity to raise with them the issue of homelessness.”

Dr Barr said the number of young people presenting as homeless was “disturbing”.

“You will not see these children sleeping rough, although we all see the numbers of people sleeping rough on our streets is steadily increasing,” he added.

“These children and their families are in temporary accommodation.

“The length of time being spent in temporary accommodation is increasing - 24 weeks in 2016 as compared to 18 weeks in 2014 and 23 weeks in 2015.”

Dr Barr questioned the impact being homeless was having on children’s education, health and sense of well-being.

“The galling thing is that it need not be like this,” he added.

“All the research has been done, the causes identified as well as the policies and processes needing to be put in place to resolve it.

“The one thing missing is the political will.

“Whatever the constitutional future holds for Scotland, I hope the General Assembly will speak with one voice in saying this is unacceptable, this needs to change and there should be no room for homelessness in 21st century Scotland.”

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