Janet Haugh: Scotland’s homelessness crisis is a national embarrassment

Janet Haugh: Scotland's homelessness crisis is a national embarrassment

Janet Haugh

Right There CEO Janet Haugh marks the homelessness charity’s 200th anniversary with a look at the charity’s journey and today’s wider issues of homelessness and the housing crisis.

Scotland’s housing crisis is intensifying. Three local authority areas have now declared themselves to be in a housing emergency, yet the Scottish Government recently cut its budget for affordable housing by almost £200m.

Every budget is under pressure - but we all know that to govern is to choose, and cuts to housing budgets in the face of rising homelessness is inexplicable.

Such a substantial funding cut seems to indicate the government does not see the urgency in dealing with this very real and worrying crisis. Taking so much money out of the pot to fund affordable housing will without doubt exacerbate the spiralling trend of homelessness, causing significant damage to efforts to prevent families from facing the trauma of losing their home.

Housing and homelessness are explicitly linked but many don’t realise the true extent of homelessness and how it impacts individuals and families. For most the term, homelessness conjures up an image of rough sleepers, and yes, this is part of it, but what people often fail to recognise is that homelessness is also about people being forced to live in their cars, or tents, to sofa surf, or to live in temporary accommodation. Put simply, it’s where families become separated from one another. It comes in many forms. And it is all these forms that we need to address.

The continued trend is a national embarrassment. But with budget cuts and the prediction that homelessness will increase by a third by 2026, we need an urgent strategy to meet these challenges head-on.

Legislation is one approach, and we do have an opportunity through the Scottish Government’s long-awaited Housing Bill to make changes that could go some way to slowing the growth in the number of people faced with or living with homelessness.

The Bill is expected to introduce a new deal for tenants, to deliver stronger rights for tenants, greater protection from eviction and a national system of rent controls for the private rented sector. It is proposed the new Bill will also include a homelessness prevention duty which will impose responsibility on public bodies and landlords to take specific actions to reduce the risk of homelessness. Domestic abuse will also be covered with a proposed requirement for all social landlords to have a domestic abuse policy in place. All laudable measures which if delivered, will of course make a difference.

As a charity which has existed for 200 years to help prevent homelessness, we will work with our peers in the sector to challenge and push the Government to do more, to recognise we are in a housing crisis right now.

We’re not at risk of crisis, we are living it.

200 years ago, evangelist David Naismith created a charity to provide a lifeline for young men in Glasgow who were suffering from growing inequalities. Some years later the charity became YMCA Glasgow and was part of the YMCA movement for 160 years before evolving to be known today as Right There. It is staggering that the problems faced by those young men who inspired Naismith to act back in 1824 still exist two centuries later.

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