Ewan Aitken: Bricks and mortar alone won’t end homelessness

Rough sleeping is the most visible side of homelessness. Picture: John Devlin
Rough sleeping is the most visible side of homelessness. Picture: John Devlin
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THE Scottish Government’s commitment to an “End Homelessness Fund” of £10 million per annum and a further £20m a year to tackle the impact of alcohol and drug on homelessness is very welcome.

These are tiny amounts compared to what is actually needed, but the fact the issues are front and centre once more in the Government’s programme for Scotland means those funds can be the catalyst for the kind of systemic change we need to be willing to consider to really end homelessness.

Ewan Aitken is CEO of Cyrenians

Ewan Aitken is CEO of Cyrenians

The announcement of the money, the commitment and the new working groups is good news not just for those experiencing one of the greatest moral scandals of our time; having nowhere warm, dry, secure and affordable to lay their head and support to face the challenges which brought them there. It is good news for all of us.

For it is a sign that caring for our neighbour and the stranger remains a core value of our nation and our political leader, which is unlike the rhetoric from some other political leaders.

I was pleased also to hear the distinction made in the announcement between homelessness and rough sleeping and the recognition of the impact of alcohol and drugs on homelessness. Rough sleeping is the sharp and most visible end but the causes and the symptoms of homelessness are far more complex.

If you are “sofa surfing” you are homeless. If you are living, as more than 2000 families are in Edinburgh tonight, in temporary accommodation, you are homeless. If you are living in a family where you do not feel safe because of alcohol or drugs use or where those who are supposed to care for you are not doing so, you are homeless. If your relationship has broken down and you have gone back to your parents “for now”, you are homeless. If you are living in accommodation that is insecure, overcrowded or the cost of which will drive you into debt, you are homeless. You may have a roof over your head but you are homeless.

The solutions to all these situations and many others which could be described as homelessness take much more than simply finding a safe, affordable home, crucial as this is. The solutions to homelessness lie in the meeting of human needs, not bricks and mortar. They lie in having the opportunities, the support, the space to flourish as we all aspire to by having someone to depend on who’ll go on your journey of transformation however long it takes. It’s about a benefits system built to care not condemn and support services which have a person-centered perspective. It’s about healing body or soul, learning the skills of living, learning to hold down a job, how to be in good relationships, being able to manage conflict, to overcome the consequences from past bad choices and time in the criminal justice system without stigma, or whatever else it is that hinders your flourishing. The solutions to homelessness are rarely about homes.

Next year is Cyrenians’ 50th anniversary. It will be a great privilege to host a number of events to give thanks for the extraordinary commitment and courage of staff, volunteers and those with whom we have journeyed as they found the resilience to transform their lives through new and positive choices. It will be my hope that by the time our 100th anniversary is due, not only will there will be no anniversary events, there will be no need to have the kind of government programme announced this week as we and it will no longer be needed.

Ewan Aitken is CEO of Cyrenians