A MEMBER of the council’s new homelessness task force has spoken of her utter despair after she visited some of the Capital’s temporary accommodation.
Green councillor Susan Rae said she witnessed dingy properties, overcrowded rooms and one child who was losing weight due to a lack of adequate facilities, during her tour.
Cllr Rae, who represents Leith Walk, even compared one of the B&Bs – provided to people in desperate need of a home – to scenes from the 1980s horror film The Shining.
Last night the council admitted “unprecedented pressures” meant demand for temporary accommodation in Edinburgh currently exceeded supply.
Cllr Rae knows what it feels like to be homeless, having lived with people who had turned to drugs and prostitution over a six-month period she found herself without a home.
She said memories from that dark time in her life a decade ago came flooding back after she visited some of the council’s accommodation.
She said: “It has been ten years since I was inside a homelessness hostel, yet even I was surprised at how quickly the feeling of oppression, despair and sheer powerlessness swamped me.
“One, perched on the edge of the city, boasts wonderful views, yet inside felt deserted and isolated. Long corridors bedecked with signage issuing dire warnings of being thrown out for any minor infringement had no natural light and frankly, had I been confronted by a child on a trike and a set of twins I would not have been surprised.”
In 2016-17, the council says 3,386 households presented as homeless, while the average homelessness case length had increased from 109 days to 303 days. Although the council has contract arrangements for around 400 B&B places across the city, an increase in demand meant an additional 100 B&B places were obtained outside any contract – which means they are not subject to the same property inspections or health and safety checks.
The Evening News has run a number of stories regarding the condition of some of these B&Bs, hostels and hotels.
In many cases the accommodation does not fit the need of the individuals, particularly families with young children.
Cllr Rae said: “In Leith I met a wonderful woman with two lovely kids, one energetic, lively toddler who was unfortunately losing weight as her mother was unable to cook healthy meals for her without access to cooking facilities, and her older brother busy with his homework, all cramped in one room heavy with dark bulky furniture.
“The whole house was crammed with an excess of furnishings and although, despite peeling wallpaper and watermarks, it seemed clean, and those living there had nothing but praise for staff, they were desperate for their own homes, their independence – to reclaim their lives. I have never been so glad to return to my own flat in my life and breathe.”
The council has pumped £2 million into the homelessness task force as part of this year’s budget to reduce the number of homeless people being placed in B&B accommodation.
Cllr Gavin Barrie, Housing and Economy Convener, said: “We will do all we can to minimise the time any family find themselves in this type of accommodation. Our homelessness services are facing unprecedented pressures, with demand for both permanent and temporary accommodation exceeding supply.”
Demand for homes currently outstrips supply with the need for between 38,000 and 46,000 new homes in Edinburgh over ten years. The council does plan to build 20,000 affordable homes within the next decade, with half of those in the next five years.
Cllr Rae added: “So, as long as we have homelessness in our city, a city of great wealth, of prosperity and economic growth, then I for one will not rest easy.”