Scottish Churches Housing Action: No room for homelessness

Scottish Churches Housing Action (SCHA) works under the slogan no room for homelessness!

For the last 20 years, this small charity has worked with Scotland’s churches to establish and support local volunteering projects that help homeless people. It also works to secure the use of redundant property for affordable housing. SCHA marked the milestone last weekend with a worship event atSt Andrew’s RC Cathedral in Glasgow.

“We were delighted that so many came along,” says chief executiveAlastair Cameron. “We took the opportunity to celebrate our achievements, recognising that the challenge of homelessness remains, and committing ourselves to continue to tackle the problems.”

The Very Rev Dr Andrew McLellan, former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and long-time supporter of the organisation, gave the address.

Guests gather at St Andrews RC Cathedral (Photo credit: Graeme Clark)

Over the years, Scottish Churches Housing Action, together with local volunteers, has established 28 starter pack schemes across Scotland, helping people to resettle after homelessness; and has worked with partners to set up four befriending projects to assist people struggling with homelessness.

The organisation has also helped the development of affordable homes from church property – in places as varied as north Edinburgh and the Isle of Iona. In 2013, SCHA set up a subsidiary charity, Whitebeam Homes, to provide below-market housing for rent on the Isle of Arran, with plans to expand to other areas.

Scottish Churches Housing Action has been the Scottish partner in organising Homeless Sunday, a UK-wide initiative, since 1998; and has worked closely with Shelter Scotland and other campaigning bodies in working for improvements in homelessness policy and legislation.

The organisation is a development body, setting up initiatives and encouraging them to operate under local control.

“This allows us to do more, and means that projects are more responsive to local circumstances,” says Alastair. “We rely on the enthusiasm and commitment of church people all over Scotland – if it wasn’t for that, our efforts would not bear fruit.”

As the organisation moves into its third decade, the headline figures on homelessness are dropping.

“This is good to see,” says Alastair, “but we fear it masks continuing problems – pressures on emergency accommodation, a greater concentration of people with multiple and complex needs, and long stays in temporary accommodation.”

Looking ahead, there remains a lot for Scottish Churches Housing Action to do. In the offing, Alastair Cameron sees the development of further befriending projects; an expansion of Whitebeam Homes; and a completely new initiative in Edinburgh – Aid & Abet, a peer-led project mentoring people leaving prison.

“We have big ambitions for a wee organisation,” he adds. “All our plans are dependent on generating the money to keep going. We have a great team of Board members and volunteers, and a small but enthusiastic group of staff – but keeping the show on the road is a constant issue!”

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