We’re working to end tragedy of homelessness - Lorna Slater
Homelessness is a brutal reality at any time, although in the festive period it becomes harsher and more dangerous.
Homeless people are not just victims of financial injustice, they are also vulnerable to several health conditions and diseases, and the winter only increases the threats.
The pandemic has made a terrible situation worse, with recent statistics showing that last year 256 people died in Scotland while experiencing homelessness, including 33 here in Edinburgh.
The figures are estimates based on a methodology that is under development, but this would represent a 40 per cent increase on 2019. It underlines the devastating impact of Covid on our communities, but also the scale of the crisis that far too many people are living through. The rise of Omicron will make it even harder.
Behind every one of these deaths is a sad and painful story. It is not just people we are losing. It is also their potential. Most deaths were people under 45. They should have had decades of their lives ahead of them. We don’t know about the things they could have achieved if they had the chance.
People experiencing homelessness are rarely experiencing it in isolation. Over half of the deaths from last years were linked to drug misuse, underlining how interlinked homelessness is to other social issues.
Many of the people experiencing homelessness are from already marginalised communities. Research from Engender shows that people experiencing instability, poor housing, homelessness or negative treatment by housing services disproportionately include disabled people, people of colour, refugee women, women who have been in the criminal justice system, LGBTQ+ women, sex workers, lone parents and women with other caring responsibilities
In the early stages of the first COVID outbreak there was a huge effort by charities and government to effectively end street homelessness. Some of these changes were only temporary, but they show what we can achieve.
As part of our cooperation agreement with the Scottish Government, we have committed to tackling homelessness. Over this parliamentary term we will be investing £50 million to end rough sleeping, including support for rapid rehousing and Housing First.
The Housing First approach is one that recognises that housing is a human right and focuses on finding people a settled, stable and secure home. It is a model that is specifically tailored for homeless people with complex and multiple needs and provides access to wraparound support from services to help maintain their new home and overcome other issues in their lives.
On top of that, we are introducing a new deal for tenants to ensure that everyone knows that the roof over their head is safe. This will deliver a private rented sector regulator, place restrictions on evictions over winter, introduce penalties and compensation for illegal evictions, and bring in a national system of rent controls.
These are not quick-fix or simple solutions. They will take time, but they are necessary. For people in precarious and vulnerable situations they could be a matter of life and death.
The last 18 months have been hard for all of us, and we need to ensure that, as we emerge from the pandemic, the society we rebuild is one that redoubles its efforts to tackle the poverty and inequality that have been exacerbated by COVID.
There is nothing inevitable about homelessness. It is a human tragedy, but it is avoidable. By taking the right action now we can end it for good.
Lorna Slater is a Lothian Green MSP and Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity