What is needed to fix Edinburgh's homelessness epidemic

Homelessness in Edinburgh has risen, new data shows. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Homelessness in Edinburgh has risen, new data shows. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

Some had spent long periods in temporary accommodation, some had slept rough, others had spent months sofa surfing, but all had experienced the reality of homelessness in modern day Scotland first-hand.

And, with the latest annual figures showing 29,692 households in the homelessness system, it’s clear that more and more people are being driven closer to housing crisis.

There are record numbers in temporary accommodation, including nearly 10,000 children, more people sleeping on the streets, the highest number of households in the system since records began.

None of these facts will come as a surprise to anyone working in frontline homelessness services – they simply represent confirmation of the trends we have been seeing for over a year.

There is more demand from families, and more demand from those who have never experienced problems with their housing before. As the cost-of-living crisis continues to eat away at the budgets of people around Edinburgh and the Lothians – and across Scotland – those who were previously comfortable are finding themselves stretched, and those who had always just about managed to keep their heads above water are finding themselves being pulled under. Being pulled ever closer to homelessness.

This is the reality we are encountering, every day, in our services.

Our new building will allow us to support more people at risk of homelessness, and it will help us to support more people into safe and secure housing. But while our services work all year round to support people in housing crisis, it is vital that policy-makers act now to prevent more people from being forced to come to us in need of help.

Because we know how to end homelessness in Scotland. We know what causes people to be forced from their homes, and we know how to prevent it.

We need more social housing, and we need the UK Government to invest in Local Housing Allowance, so that Housing Benefit reflects the true cost of rents.

And we urgently need the Scottish Parliament to press on with plans to introduce new measures aimed at preventing homelessness. That means allowing people to get help earlier, up to six months before they are at risk of homelessness, and it means widening responsibility for preventing homelessness across public services, so those working in public services ask people about their housing situation, and act, to offer help if there are at risk.

These proposals, based on recommendations from the homelessness sector and local authorities across Scotland, could help stem the flow of people being forced into homelessness. They could take pressure off public services, reduce numbers of people trapped in temporary accommodation, and, most importantly, they could help thousands more people from experiencing the trauma and indignity of homelessness.

Our new headquarters will allow us to do more to prevent homelessness, and to help those who have already lost their home to take their first steps towards settled, secure housing.

But without wider change, we will continue to see more people forced to turn to Crisis for help. It’s time to make ending homelessness a real political priority – together we can do it.

- Matt Downie is chief executive of Crisis