Statistics show we are facing a homelessness crisis - Jane Meagher

Statistics released by the Scottish Government make stark reading, revealing a worrying post-pandemic trend in homelessness all over the country.
Cllr Jane MeagherCllr Jane Meagher
Cllr Jane Meagher

In Edinburgh, we face one of the biggest challenges of all. We are experiencing housing pressures like nowhere else in Scotland, with the lowest proportion of social housing in the country and the most buoyant and expensive, private rented sector.

The data reveals homelessness presentations have risen in Edinburgh in less than one year and, if this continues, we can sadly expect a return to pre-covid numbers of homeless presentations by the end of 2023.

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The pandemic tested the limits of our city, our businesses and our homelives, too. The pressures on our residents are now being exacerbated by the cost-of-living crisis and our city of course faces the additional challenge of supporting refugees who are rapidly fleeing war in Ukraine.

Now is the time for the Scottish Government to take stock of these statistics and accept the homelessness challenges we’re experiencing in the Capital are part of a national crisis. The funding it provides to the council is simply insufficient now to pay for our statutory duties, particularly as we navigate legislation the Government has introduced when it comes to people with no recourse to public funds, or no local connection.

We are working tirelessly and with great care with our partners to put people up in emergency forms of accommodation to keep them safe and warm, providing additional services such as health and social care. It’s important to recognise that homelessness is not just about rough sleeping, it’s about everyone who is waiting for a permanent address, and that can be for any number of reasons that could affect any of us.

I was recently speaking to someone about their experience of becoming homeless and waiting for a new home, as part of the volunteering I do. This gentleman told me how he had been an entrepreneur. He had his own business and had managed to purchase his own home. In the blink of an eye, the business couldn’t survive the effects of lockdown. With his mortgage tied to his business finances, he’s finding himself with no place to stay. This is homelessness.

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Tonight, over 4,500 households will sleep in temporary accommodation in Edinburgh. When I tell people this figure, they are stunned. I’m disappointed that we aren’t able to help people to move on more quickly into permanent homes, particularly vulnerable households and those with young children, and this is due to extremely lengthy waiting times for council housing.

We have, with the third sector and others, been working to improve the experience of those who face or become homeless and to help break the cycle of recurring homelessness. All of this is detailed in our Rapid Rehousing Transition plan which sets out the work we are doing to prevent homelessness wherever possible, transform temporary accommodation, reduce the amount of time before people access permanent, settled homes and address rough sleeping in Edinburgh.

The fact remains, we simply do not have enough homes to meet the need. This is now leading us towards breaching the Government’s Unsuitable Accommodation Order and, sadly, numerous occasions where we have failed to accommodate.

I am exploring the option of a hardship fund to support Council tenants who may be at the most risk, helping to prevent as many people as possible from entering homelessness at one of the most financially difficult times on record for UK households. We are re-assembling our Homeless Taskforce to guide us as we do that as well as meeting regularly with social landlords, and the council is driving forward with as much new social housing as it can afford.

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As a city and as a country we need to have this conversation and speak openly about solutions. The Scottish Government’s statistics have sparked a debate which I hope will lead them towards helping us to truly tackle Edinburgh’s housing challenge. They can do this by fairly funding our city so that we improve and build much more housing so that everyone has a place to call home. We’re facing a housing and homelessness crisis but I believe we can do incredible things to address the challenge before us if we work together.

Cllr Jane Meagher is Housing and Homelessness Convener