FUNDING police officers and charity workers to tackle begging and homelessness is “little more than a sticking plaster solution”, a leading churchman has warned.
Rev Dr Russell Barr, the former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, focused on homelessness during his year in office – and warned a co-ordinated approach was needed.
The News told yesterday how city centre management organisation Essential Edinburgh wants to pay for two charity workers and two police officers to offer direct help to people sleeping rough.
Dr Barr said: “As the street pastors will confirm, the people they meet are very vulnerable, often very damaged and so the initiative to task two police officers and two charity workers is to be welcomed – especially if their efforts are co-ordinated with the other support being given to people sleeping rough.
“However, until there is a sufficient supply of appropriate social housing – and until there is a sufficient commitment to resourcing support from mental health and addiction workers – at best the police officers and charity workers will provide little more than a temporary sticking plaster solution.”
Dr Barr said it was important that the root causes of homelessness and how best to address it were understood.
He said: “At best we are managing the situation and have lost any ambition to resolve it and so the numbers of people applying to local authorities to be accepted as homeless, and the numbers being accepted, are roughly the same as they were 25 years ago.”
Inspector David Robertson, from the City Centre Policing Team, said the business community helping the police minimise the associated problems of homelessness was a welcome step forward.
He said: “On a daily basis our council-funded ward officers patrol the city centre to identify vulnerable individuals and signpost them to support.
“Our aim is to intervene early and proactively, in order to provide support, prevent individuals from becoming the victims of criminality including human trafficking and to minimise the impact of associated antisocial behaviour to local residents and businesses.
“Over the last year, we have been working closely with a broad range of public, private and voluntary organisations including Essential Edinburgh to look at how we can work together better to address these issues and I am delighted with the commitment shown by the business community.”
City Centre councillor Jo Mowatt hopes Essential Edinburgh can work together with the council and police.
She said: “I think this is a positive way forward to try and tackle a difficult and deep seated problem. I would hope that this would be taken forward in partnership with the council so we can make the most effective use of the BIDs and council’s funds to help improve the situation of as many people who are homeless as possible.”