Scotland’s Covid crisis helped us see that homelessness is preventable – Ewan Aitken

Ewan Aitken is the CEO Cyrenians ScotlandEwan Aitken is the CEO Cyrenians Scotland
Ewan Aitken is the CEO Cyrenians Scotland
The continuation of the coronavirus outbreak can be depressing, but there is hope to be found in examples of people working together for the greater good, writes Ewan Aitken.

The toughest thing about this pandemic is there seems no end to it. It’s one thing to run a marathon knowing the finishing line is a long way off. It’s another to run a race where there’s no finishing line in sight. It’s both mentally and physically exhausting, and in ways we usually don’t feel.

So many friends and colleague have spoken to me these past few weeks in particular of feeling not just weary but down, not just lacking energy but motivation. And there are days when I feel the same.

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I know many, many people are in a far worse situation than I am. Yet even though I know this very clearly there are still days when this all feels too much.

The numbers presenting as homeless since Covid are up around 17 per cent (Picture: John Devlin)The numbers presenting as homeless since Covid are up around 17 per cent (Picture: John Devlin)
The numbers presenting as homeless since Covid are up around 17 per cent (Picture: John Devlin)

On days when I feel like this I have learnt just to stop, to breathe, to be still, to listen to the silence and to be comfortable with taking time to take care of myself. Sometimes just the shortest of breaks where I take the time to do nothing but be still can make a huge difference in getting through the days when I feel like the journey through this madness is simply never ending.

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When I do take time, I focus on the stories I hear from colleagues of people we and other charities have been supporting. The impact of Covid has fallen unevenly across society, and new ways of working developed in response have presented opportunities for real change and hope.

Having put our employability programme online, we’ve been able to support several people into jobs because we could be much more flexible about when we delivered the training. Some of the extra funding we received for Covid has meant we’ve been able to run additional programmes for those not attending school, for whom Covid had compounded their challenges – this has brought them much closer to getting into positive destinations. And several people who had been sleeping rough – in some cases for over a decade – have now found permanent homes because the lockdown created a space for conversation and engagement with the support Cyrenians and others offer. It is these stories of real change which inspire me when this madness gets me down.

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It’s important that we build on these kinds of successes going forward, learn from our experiences, and rebuild from this pandemic with a clear vision of what is possible for Scotland.

It’s clear from recent homelessness figures, released last week, that we cannot simply go back to the way things were. These figures (pre-Covid) showed the extent of our housing crisis before the pandemic hit. They show a four per cent increase in homelessness presentations and seven per cent increase in the number of young people, around 7280, who spent time in temporary accommodation last year.

We know during the period September last year until June this year at least 1100 unique individuals slept rough at least one night in Edinburgh. These numbers do not make for pretty reading and we know the numbers presenting as homeless since Covid are up around 17 per cent, with around half doing so for the first time in their lives.

We know these figures, and they could continue to get me down. And on some days, they really do. But we also know that this can change, that homelessness is preventable. So instead I remind myself of what was achieved during Covid through a real collaboration across the charity, public and business sectors, with hundreds of people accommodated in hotels and the vast majority helped to find a next step. I remind myself of the way communities came together to support one another, and of the continued efforts of charities and community groups, and their supporters far and wide.

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If we can achieve this in a crisis, think what we can achieve when we don’t have one to cope with. That really will get you through the down days.

Ewan Aitken is the CEO of Cyrenians Scotland

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