As the nights get colder and darker, the need to help those who are most vulnerable, including those who are homeless in the city, is very much on many people’s minds.
I would therefore like to reassure you as housing and economy convener that the city council is giving this issue the highest possible priority, which is why we made it a key coalition commitment.
Last month, we announced a cross party homelessness task force, set up to address the unprecedented pressures facing our services with demand for both permanent and temporary accommodation exceeding supply.
This is an issue that many of us are trying to tackle and the task force will help us when working with partners across the city to ensure that realistic solutions are found.
In Edinburgh, one of the biggest issues for homelessness services is the use of bed and breakfast accommodation and we are exploring alternatives that could better meet the needs of individuals and families, with the aim of ending the use of bed and breakfast accommodation for good over the course of this administration.
Our focus on prevention and early intervention has seen a significant overall reduction in homelessness presentations but, as a result of welfare reform, a lack of affordable housing options and a growing population there has been an increase in the amount of time people spend in temporary accommodation when they do require it.
It is important that we help to ease this problem, which is why one of our other commitments is to build 20,000 new affordable homes in the next 10 years.
Other areas of focus for the taskforce will be identifying council properties which could be developed to provide temporary or move on accommodation and assessing the complexity of service users’ needs. My colleague Kate Campbell has taken on the role as homelessness champion to ensure that this work is given the focus and attention that it deserves.
Our priorities fit in well with the national homelessness taskforce and last week the Scottish Government announced funding which will help us to increase the number of people we can reach out to across a wide range of services to ensure that we can meet the needs of anyone who is at risk of homelessness, and particularly for those who are rough sleeping.
Rough sleeping is extremely tough at this time of year, and it is heartening to see that Social Bite has raised more than £2million so far for Sleep in the Park. Our chief executive, leader and deputy leader have all undertaken to sleep under the stars on Friday for this extremely worthwhile cause.
The event, which we are helping to host in West Princes Street Gardens, looks set to become the world’s biggest ever charity sleepover.
We have set ourselves a tough challenge as there is an enormous amount of work to be done tackling homelessness across the city.
I and my colleagues from all parties in the taskforce are determined, though, to come up with bold solutions which prevent homelessness, tackle rough sleeping, and improve the quality of temporary accommodation we provide.
Cllr Gavin Barrie is housing and economy convener on the City of Edinburgh Council.