Scotland sees shift in public attitudes to homelessness

The general Scottish public has a better understanding of the causes of homelessness than it did over ten years ago and that there is greater empathy towards people who are homeless, according to new research.

The shift in attitudes towards homelessness was revealed in a study by charity Street Soccer Scotland.

However, according to the charity’s founder, there is still a long way to go to build understanding, end the stigma of sleeping rough and work towards ending homelessness for good.

The news comes after a public consultation was launched to build Scotland’s first Change Centre – a football-themed self-management and personal development centre for people experiencing homelessness in Edinburgh.

The centre would become the heart of the community, offering local people use of the facilities as well as opportunities for local children and young people to use the centre, in a bid to fight the stigma of homelessness and nurture understanding of its causes.

Researchers commissioned by Street Soccer Scotland compared attitudes expressed by members of the public in Scotland today and in the 2006 Scottish Social Attitudes survey.

Both surveys asked respondents to what extent they agreed or disagreed with identical statements about homelessness.

  • Researchers found that when asked whether they thought ‘most homeless people could find somewhere to live if they really tried’, 45% of respondents agreed with the statement in 2006, compared to only 19% today.
  • In 2006, 33% of respondents disagreed with this statement, compared to 56% today.
  • When asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement that ‘many people say they are homeless to get a house from the council’, 35% of respondents agreed with the statement in 2006, compared to 23% today.
  • In 2006, 29% of respondents disagreed with this statement, compared to 44% today.
  • Researchers say this illustrates shifting attitudes in Scotland and a willingness to understand and sympathise more with people who are homeless.

    In the last year, 34,100 households made a homelessness application in Scotland.

    The plans for Change Centre, which is also supported by Edinburgh South Community Football Club which currently uses the site, have been described as ‘a life changing proposal’. They show designs to build a centre focused around football, with four 5-a-side pitches and two 7-a-side pitches, education suites and community café at its heart. It will have 32 en-suite bedrooms, communal kitchens and shared living space for people experiencing homelessness in Scotland’s capital.

    Homeless people referred to the centre would help to run the facility using a social enterprise model working alongside members of staff. In turn they would build up valuable transferrable skills for independent living, future employment, as well as gaining a sense of purpose, friendships and daily structure.

    Recent research by Street Soccer Scotland found that more than one million Scots fear being made homeless, with many admitting they may be two pay cheques away from being unable to pay their rent or mortgages.

    “We need to see the person and not the circumstances they find themselves in.”

    The research found that 41% of people believe they are only two pay cheques away from losing their home while 25% of people said that they, or someone they know, has already experienced homelessness.

    David Duke, founder and CEO of Street Soccer Scotland, who has personal experience of homelessness, said: “We can’t know why there’s been a change in attitudes towards homelessness, but it’s probably because more people feel like it could happen to them. It’s not ‘us’ and ‘them’ any more.

    “It could also be down to a big push in recent years from government and the third sector, focusing on homelessness and its causes. This activity, along with the everyday experiences of people affected by the high cost of housing, means more and more we are looking at different and innovative ways to tackle homelessness.

    “The Scottish Government, the third sector as well as local authorities like City of Edinburgh Council, are committed to tackling homelessness, and together with the likes of the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group, we’re working towards ending homelessness.

    “Change Centre is part of that work. It’s not a stretch to say that it can change lives for the better and get people back on their feet for good. It will offer hope, relationships and purpose, but much more than that it’ll break away some of the misconceptions around homelessness.

    “We don’t want Change Centre to be just another place offering a roof for people who are homeless. We want to be part of the community, working with locals and users of the Change Centre to build trust and understanding.

    “When most people see a person who is homeless, it’s usually when they’re sleeping rough or on the street. It’s at the lowest point of that person’s life – a snapshot of despair, crisis and sometimes chaos. I know what that feels like, I’ve been there myself.

    “What we need to start doing is seeing people for who they are and remember that before homelessness, often a series of unfortunate and sometimes tragic events led them here often without the support network around them, and we should see people for what they could be with the right help and support. We need to start treating people experiencing homelessness as just that – people. We need to see the person and not the circumstances they find themselves in.”

    David Duke added: “The Change Centre is not a sticking plaster for the homelessness crisis, it’s a new way of supporting people, offering respect, friendship and self-worth. It’s about bringing together people who are homeless and the community and finding solutions that work in the long-term for everyone.

    “We want to provide security, relationships and purpose, not just to the homeless people but members of the community too – some of whom may be at risk of homelessness themselves.

    “We want everyone to be a part of Change Centre’s success story.”

    The proposals are being discussed with City of Edinburgh Council by Change Centre in conjunction with Edinburgh South Community Football Club. The club already serves around 650 players in and around the community and uses the existing land for their club.

    Consultation events will be held at the Morgan Playing Fields on:

    Tuesday 1st May and Wednesday 2nd May at 18:30-20:00.

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