Homelessness crisis looming for the Capital

Shelter believes the number of rough sleepers in the Capital is higher than the council's estimate. Picture: Greg Macvean
Shelter believes the number of rough sleepers in the Capital is higher than the council's estimate. Picture: Greg Macvean
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THE number of people sleeping rough in Edinburgh has increased and will rise further unless action is taken, a new report by housing charity Shelter has warned.

The study – commissioned by the city council – found a total of 1976 people had slept on the Capital’s streets during a two-year period and said spending cuts meant vulnerable people would not get the help they needed.

Shelter said to tackle the problem the council should reduce the use of B&B accommodation for vulnerable rough sleepers, invest in more supported accommodation, increase the capacity of care shelters and co-ordinate help for the many rough sleepers with mental health problems.

Last year, the council claimed less than three per cent of Edinburgh’s official 3980 homeless total were sleeping rough and boasted the Capital had fewer people on the streets than any other Scottish city.

But the Shelter report says many people sleeping rough do not register with the council because they don’t think the 
local authority will be able to help them.

And the report says such a view is “understandable” since it found up to 50 per cent of homeless applications by rough sleepers were turned down.

It also notes the winter shelters operated in churches across the city regularly had to turn people away because they were full. And it says the council’s out-of-hours crisis service was rarely able to offer temporary accommodation.

The researchers even found that when the churches’ care shelters rang up looking for temporary accommodation for rough sleepers, rather than being able to offer anything the our-of-hours service was asking the shelters to take more people.

The report says that although there were no definitive figures – no count of rough sleepers has been carried out since 2003 – the indications were that the number sleeping on the street was increasing.

And it argues that tackling the problem properly would save money in the long run, saying: “The cost of not preventing and responding effectively to rough sleeping is high, in human, societal and monetary terms.”

It concludes: “As there are increasing tears in the safety net of services, more people will fall through the gaps. Although not unique to Edinburgh, the city’s reduced spending in social care will mean people are not getting the support they need for as long as they need it.”

Andy McAleavy, manager of the Homeless Outreach Project, said the report’s findings called into question the council’s emphasis on prevention rather than tackling the immediate problem.

He said: “There is a significant increase in rough sleeping and the council has denied that for the last five or six years. You have to ask if the prevention strategy is working.

“It’s like the fire brigade – you can invest in lots of education and fire prevention, but you need to have the fire engine and firefighters to tackle the blaze.”

Lothian Conservative MSP Miles Briggs said the report was “concerning” and called on the council to refocus its efforts.

He said: “We need to see the council investing in the facilities required by those who are sleeping rough, such as hostels, as well as in homelessness prevention – both approaches are necessary. I am particularly concerned at the number of people rough sleeping identified as having mental health problems”

Ricky Henderson, leader of health, social care and housing, said: “The council is currently working with partner agencies to develop a joint approach to future service delivery.”

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com