Church vows to tackle Edinburgh’s ‘obscene’ homelessness crisis

The Rev Dr Russell Barr has described Edinburgh's homelessness problem as 'obscene'. File picture: Greg Macvean
The Rev Dr Russell Barr has described Edinburgh's homelessness problem as 'obscene'. File picture: Greg Macvean
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THE incoming Moderator of the Church of Scotland has said it is shocking and disgraceful that thousands of people are homeless in Edinburgh.

Speaking at the Fresh Start project in Pilton, which he founded in 1999, the Rev Dr Russell Barr vowed to spend the majority of his year in charge of the church fighting the “obscene” problem in the Capital and throughout Scotland.

Rev Dr Russell Barr at the Fresh Start charity which he founded. Picture: Andrew O'Brien

Rev Dr Russell Barr at the Fresh Start charity which he founded. Picture: Andrew O'Brien

Official statistics show that more than 4000 homeless applications were made in Edinburgh in 2014-15.

Across Scotland, 35,764 homeless applications were made to local authorities during the same period.

Dr Barr, 62, who has been minister at Cramond Kirk since 1993, said: “The common denominator of homelessness is poverty and we are living at a time when services are being cut back.

“The Scottish Government has made a commitment in their manifesto to provide at least 50,000 more affordable homes over the next five years.

“I’m very keen to engage with the political world to see what proportion is going to be social affordable housing.” Dr Barr, who will take up the official role of Moderator on Saturday at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, said Fresh Start was inspired by a conversation he had with a homeless man in Edinburgh called Sam.

He said: “I’d met up with him and invited him to speak to church leaders to get ideas about what to do about homelessness.

“When I dropped him off he had nowhere to go. ‘I’ll just go down to Haymarket’, he told me. I thought to myself that this just wasn’t good enough.

“Sam had said you could get the key for a flat but that you needed to turn it into a home by having things like cutlery, pots and pans.”

Fresh Start, which provides starter packs of household goods donated by church members for homeless people moving into a home, delivered 11,000 kits across the city last year.”

Stewart Ferguson, operations manager at Fresh Start, which has 17 employees and approximately 400 volunteers, said: “Last year we gave out 11,000 starter packs but this year due to council cuts we’re down to 5000. We don’t know if we’ll be able to get the numbers up again, that will depend on income revenue.

“What we do is assess people’s need and then match it with the kind of starter packs that will help, which could be anything from plates and pots to duvets and curtains.

“We can also help with electrical goods such as cookers, kettles and lamps.”

A spokeswoman for the city council said: “We invested over £14 million in financial year 2014-2015 to fund third sector support services and around another £11m on our own prevention services.

“Protecting vulnerable people will continue to be our key priority and we are committed to reducing homelessness further across Edinburgh.”