MSP says Edinburgh's homeless are being treated like 'second class citizens'

A Lothians MSP has accused the council of treating homeless people as second class citizens, as it’s revealed city’s most vulnerable are barred from buildings – and forced to reveal personal details over a buzzer.

Friday, 10th September 2021, 4:45 am
Updated Sunday, 12th September 2021, 1:13 pm

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Conservative Miles Briggs has blasted the council for only allowing people to present as homeless– over an intercom.

It comes after angry families told the Evening News that they couldn’t get into a building to access help until they gave their phone number and other personal information over a buzzer while standing in a queue.

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Laura Wilson says her son has to give his person details through a buzzer at North West Pilton council office

Homelessness charity Shelter has criticised the practice as ‘degrading and humiliating’ and it has sparked fears vulnerable people could be put off seeking help.

The council confirmed it is still operating an intercom system at Community Resilience Centres (CRCs) set up in March 2020 to provide crisis services to vulnerable customers, including homeless people.

Five offices which are not open to the general public are operating with limited access, including at Wester Hailes, West Pilton Gardens, Captain’s Road, Craigmillar and Leith.

Council chiefs admit people are asked to give their phone number and date of birth as part of a ‘triage’ process they say is in place to limit the spread of Covid.

Laura Wilson said her son is treated like he doesn't matter by the council

They insist that no one should be asked for specific details of their situation over a buzzer.

But the Evening News has heard from furious families forced to disclose the reason why they are homeless in front of a queue of strangers before they can even talk to a housing officer.

Laura Wilson attended the West Pilton council office with her son on Monday and was appalled that he was forced to give information through a buzzer as other people waited behind them.

Ms Wilson, a mum-of-five, said her son had to give his date of birth, mobile phone number and answer why he was homeless. Her 19-year-old son, who can’t be named, suffers from anxiety and has pins in his leg caused by a motorbike accident.

Her son has been sofa surfing for more than two years but says he has been repeatedly turned away at the buzzer – often not even getting in to talk to an officer.

The 39-year-old said the council has offered her son temporary accommodation but he claims he was threatened with a knife while in a B&B.

Ms Wilson said: "There were people queuing outside and 3 security staff at the door. It’s intimidating. Once you get inside there’s a massive waiting room and five interview rooms. So why can’t people be allowed in to wait?

"It’s disgusting. People like my son who has waiting years for a roof over their heads are forced to stand in the cold and tell personal stuff through a buzzer, when people can hear everything. We can go into pubs, nightclubs, go to football matches.”

"My son has to go through this time and again, until he gets a house. It’s brutal. Such an uphill battle. I’m here to stand up for my son but what about folk that don’t have anyone to help them?”

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Figures show the council was presented with 2,550 homeless applications during the coronavirus pandemic and the number of people in temporary accommodation in the capital has also skyrocketed.

Lothian MSP, Miles Briggs, said: "These reports of people having to queue up to present as homeless and provide personal details through a buzzer are very concerning.

"It is people being treated like this which reinforces the impression that people who are homeless are second class citizens.

"Issues around privacy and data protection also need to be questioned here, with people providing private information whilst in a queue.

"I will be in touch with the council’s chief executive to ensure that people are not forced to present as homeless through a buzzer, especially as it gets colder outside."

Nicola Hazelton, Shelter Scotland Edinburgh community hub manager, said: "The experience of being homeless is always awful but councils have it in their power to lessen the trauma by providing services in a way which show respect for the people they are supporting. Forcing people to queue up in public and to explain themselves in front of others robs them of their dignity and privacy. This is not an acceptable way for the council to be treating people in crisis.

"Shelter Scotland calls on the council to end this humiliating and degrading practice and put in place services which are person-centred and fit for the purpose of supporting people who have in many instances gone through traumatic events. We would be happy to arrange a meeting with people who have experienced their services to talk through ideas for how improvements could be made."

A council spokesperson said: "Our council Resilience Centres were established to provide services to customers who have critical needs during the pandemic and our staff have been trained to treat people with sensitivity and respect. Protecting both staff and members of the public has been a priority over the last year and a half, which is why a triage process has been used to ascertain how best to serve anyone presenting at a centre. No one has to present at a Resilience Centre on a daily basis, and we are encouraging people to call or email instead. But where people do turn up in person because they feel they need to have a conversation face to face, then we need to make sure that both service users and staff are safe.

"Once a person’s requirements have been established, a telephone or face-to-face interview is set up to arrange temporary accommodation, if needed. As we move through into different phases of the pandemic we will consider how best to move to a different way of working that makes it easier for people, and we’ll make sure we listen to feedback from service users on what would work for them."

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