Scotland's homelessness crisis: Humza Yousaf's appointment of a housing minister provides fresh hope – Ewan Aitken

The SNP leadership race has reached its conclusion and Scotland’s new First Minister must now make the shift from setting out his priorities for Scotland to delivering on them.
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Humza Yousaf has made much of his commitment to social justice and tackling child poverty, both during his leadership campaign and throughout his years as a senior member of Nicola Sturgeon’s government. However genuine this commitment, acute pressures on the housing system are a threat to any meaningful progress on tackling poverty and deprivation.

Edinburgh has seen a 17 per cent increase in live homelessness cases since 2020-21 and the city now houses 2,500 children in temporary accommodation. These numbers are sure to keep climbing if real and drastic action isn’t taken. Significant investment in the large-scale provision of affordable and social sector housing is necessary to reverse these trends.

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The appointment of a dedicated housing minister, East Lothian MSP Paul McLennan, in the new Scottish Government was widely welcomed by the housing and homelessness sector as a signal of intent. Having the support of a dedicated minister will allow many of us across the sector to provide meaningful insights into the complexity of issues which lead people to become homeless, bringing us closer to real and tangible solutions for those we support and, ultimately, helping the Scottish Government achieve its goal of eradicating homelessness – a benefit to every community across Scotland.

The pandemic and lockdowns took a disproportionately negative toll on the resilience, financial stability and mental health of individuals and communities who were already struggling. This has been compounded by the cost-of-living crisis which has resulted in even more people, including many in work, needing to access foodbanks and pantries, having to make impossible decisions around looking after themselves and their families, getting behind on soaring bills and being in real danger of losing their jobs and their homes.

Shockingly, the most recent figures show that 28 per cent of the households that became homeless in 2021-2022 did so after being asked to leave their parental or family home. This figure rises to 80 per cent for homeless 16 and 17-year-olds. In a Scotland that prides itself on being a compassionate, caring society we cannot afford to be letting our young people down in such a tragic way.

As the aftermath of the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis take their toll, too many families are reaching breaking point. We know that there are many routes into homelessness – and that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to eradicating the problem. But we must do better. We cannot afford to allow young people to experience such a tough reality at such a formative age, and we cannot allow the cycle to perpetuate throughout the rest of their lives.

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At Cyrenians, we have been working tirelessly to support people experiencing some of the most difficult periods of their lives as they move from one crisis to the next. With a new focus on housing at ministerial level, now is the time to work together to ensure future policy protects our young people and breaks that cycle.

Ewan Aitken is chief executive of Cyrenians