Churchman accuses politicians over homelessness

Rev Russell Barr
Rev Russell Barr
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A LEADING churchman has accused politicians of lacking the will to tackle homelessness.

Retiring Moderator the Very Rev Dr Russell Barr told the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly said homelessness figures had hardly changed in the past 25 years.

He said: “The numbers of people homeless continues to be a stain on our nation’s character and consciousness.”

And with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon sitting in the VIP gallery, he continued: “All the research has been done, the causes identified as well as the policies and processes needing to be put in place to resolve it.

“The one thing missing is the political will.

“Whatever the constitutional future holds for Scotland, I hope the General Assembly will speak with one voice in saying this is unacceptable, this needs to change and there should be no room for homelessness in 21st century Scotland.”

Dr Barr, who founded Edinburgh-based charity Fresh Start, which helps homeless moving into new tenancies, said official statistics showed 34,662 homelessness applications to Scotland’s 32 councils in the year to March 2016, of which 82 per cent – 28,226 – were assessed as homeless.

“The figures are little different from what they were 25 years ago and the proportion of applications assessed as homeless has increased steadily from 72 per cent in 2004-05.

“Most disturbingly of all, as of September 2016, 5751 pre-school and school-age children were registered as homeless as of September last year – a 17 per cent increase on the previous year.”

And he said the length of time families were having to spend in temporary accommodation was increasing – to 24 weeks in 2016 – and he questioned the impact it was having on children’s education, health and sense of well-being. “The galling thing is that it need not be like this,” he added.

Dr Barr, who returns to his duties as minister at Cramond, said research at Heriot-Watt University on a successful scheme in Finland had led to pilot studies in Glasgow where temporary accommodation was bypassed and people were given permanent flats with the necessary support.

His comments came just days after the Evening News highlighted the plight of 15 families, including 42 children, in north Edinburgh who face eviction as a result of rent arrears run up after the UK Government’s introduction of a cap on benefits.

Campaigners attended last week’s full council meeting, lobbying for homeless people to be housed in “decent flats in suitable areas” and not “sub-standard hostels and B&Bs”, and for empty houses to be brought back into use.

Joanne Collins, one of the campaigners, said the 15 young women had been taking part in Making It Work, a project designed to help them return to work.