It’s the second week of July and the Met Office has issued severe thunderstorm warnings covering almost all of the country. Tomorrow Edinburgh could see 50mm of rain fall in just two hours. With forecasts like these it’s hard not to think of the people struggling with life on the streets.
Shelter recently released a report on homelessness in Scotland showing there were 36,500 homeless applications made in Scotland last year. It also revealed that the number of applicants in our capital city who had slept rough before seeking help from the council had risen by 16 per cent. This is indisputably a crisis.
There are some excellent shelters around Edinburgh that offer a safe haven and a warm meal to the homeless, but many only operate in the colder months of the year. This week’s weather goes to show just how vulnerable Edinburgh’s homeless population is all year round.
It’s also important to remember that not all homelessness is visible. When people find themselves homeless, they often end up in temporary or emergency accommodation, such as B&Bs. There are countless families squeezed into spaces that in many cases are substandard, unhealthy and dispiriting. In Edinburgh the number of households in temporary accommodation shot up ten per cent last year and on average people in them stayed there for around nine months. Life on the streets, sofa surfing or in uncertain temporary accommodation, when you don’t know if you’re coming or going or who will stay next door tomorrow, can take a huge toll on people’s mental and physical health. It causes real disruption to children’s development too.
Both the Scottish and UK Governments need to make urgent changes. They have both let families down and put people at greater risk of homelessness through dismal local funding settlements and cruelly designed welfare policies respectively.
The SNP must urgently grasp the opportunity to build more social housing and ensure councils have resources to fix poor housing. There are thousands of neglected and vacant properties across the country which, with the right incentives, could be renovated to boost the housing stock. It is typically far cheaper to renovate an existing home than it is to build a new one. That’s why Scottish Liberal Democrats are calling for the Scottish Government to introduce a new ‘help to renovate’ loan to get existing vacant properties up to scratch and back in use, boosting Scotland’s housing stock.
The Conservatives need to fix those policies putting people at greater risk of homelessness, starting with the benefit freeze and Universal Credit. Homelessness is not an issue you can view in isolation. If our mental health services had more plentiful resources they’d have more of a chance of helping people before things reach crisis point. There’s a whole package of improvements that the Scottish Government could introduce to curb these worrying trends.
Nobody should be without a place to call home. Our governments have an absolute responsibility to keep Scots safe.