Old care homes revamp to provide beds for homeless

Roy George, who became homeless earlier this year.
Roy George, who became homeless earlier this year.
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Dilapidated council buildings are to be turned into temporary housing for homeless families and vulnerable teenagers.

Abandoned care homes Midfield House, in Lasswade, and Pentland House, in Penicuik, will be revamped to offer beds to nearly 60 people in need.

Midlothian Council is keen to slash its £1 million bill on bed and breakfast accommodation for the homeless.

The authority is the fifth biggest Scottish spender on B&B stays for those with nowhere else to go, but is now aiming to cut the cost by two-thirds by developing the buildings, which have both been empty for more than a year.

Eibhlin McHugh, the council’s joint director of health and social care, said the move would have many benefits.

She said: “It is unusual for the council to have this opportunity of two existing buildings which are surplus to requirements, located in areas of high need for temporary accommodation and which will not require large amounts of investment.

“With the impacts of welfare reform, people are struggling to manage very limited household budgets and some are being forced to move home, with restricted housing choices.

“These proposals will demonstrate Midlothian Council is committed to making sure temporary accommodation in Midlothian is of a good quality and that people get the help and support they need.”

Midfield House was previously a young people’s centre, until a care inspection ruled the 30-year-old building was no longer fit for purpose. It was replaced by two newer care homes last spring. Now, the council is looking to invest £40,000 refitting the building to house 15 beds – saving £166,000 in annual B&B costs.

In Penicuik, similar plans would see the 43-bedroom Pentland House given a £345,000 makeover. The care home shut its doors in September 2013 after it failed to meet Care Commission standards.

By refitting the building instead and hiring at least 18 workers to staff the site, Midlothian Council would save nearly £450,000 in B&B costs. Penicuik community councillor Norman Gilfillan said residents would welcome plans to bring the home back into use.

“Pentland House is a great building, and it’s an asset the council should be utilising,” he said.

Graeme Brown, director of homelessness charity Shelter Scotland, added: “We welcome positive discussion within communities to find appropriate solutions to Scotland’s housing and homelessness challenges.

“Our experience is that becoming homeless sends people’s lives into crisis and when it does happen, it is crucial that facilities and services are in place. Safe and secure temporary accommodation can help people get back on their feet.”

Midlothian Council isn’t the only local authority looking to reinvent its homeless services.

Edinburgh City Council, which had the highest level of B&B use in Scotland last year, voted earlier this month to pursue a new approach towards homelessness that could see support services consolidated under the roof of a new flagship facility.

Buildings plan ‘is all good’

University librarian George Roy, from Midlothian, was made homeless earlier this year after his relationship collapsed.

He said: “I’ve been homeless since last year and have lived in a homeless B&B for five months. The last thing I expected was to become homeless, I never thought it would happen to me.

“Everything about this idea for Penicuik and Poltonhall, the logistics, financial side, the fact that it’s going to be properly staffed, is all good.”

nash.riggins@edinburghnews.com