Adam Lang: Let’s fix the national shame of homelessness in Scotland

Shelter Scotland's head of policy and communications Adam Lang urges people to take up the fight against homelessness

JOHN-PAUL CLARK'S recent 'Homeless in Glasgow' blog on CommonSpace shows only too starkly the utter frustration and, at times, baffling complexity of the housing safety net system which is meant to help, not hinder, people if they lose their home.

It is simply not right that it is easier for John-Paul to access accommodation and support by turning to a charity, such as Shelter Scotland, for help, rather than his local authority directly. 

What barriers are in place, intentionally or not, and why are people seemingly being denied their rights to accommodation? Why does the process of applying as homeless all too often make people feel inferior instead of being treated with fairness, respect and dignity?

READ THE SERIES – John-Paul Clark: Homeless in Glasgow

Unfortunately, our current housing system is pushing too many people into homelessness. Recent welfare reforms are compounding this problem further – driving more vulnerable people into poverty and at risk of losing their home.

The ongoing roll out of Universal Credit, the benefit cap reduction and changes to the way housing benefit is calculated for social sector rents all directly threaten people’s ability to keep their tenancies.

At Shelter Scotland, we analyse what’s happening and crunch the numbers to create evidence-based policy ideas that we think will help bring lasting change and better outcomes for people facing bad housing and homelessness – both now and in the future. 

But it’s never as easy as that. We have to keep knocking on doors – sometimes it’s like hitting your head against a brick wall because people just don’t seem to be listening. The people we want to hear our message are in national and local government. We want to keep reminding them that in Scotland, homelessness is far from fixed – which is our latest flagship campaign.

As with all Shelter Scotland’s campaign asks, this is based on extensive research, robust evidence and the experiences of those people who come to us for help, like John-Paul - those at the sharp end of Scotland’s housing crisis.

Last year there were 34,100 homeless applications in Scotland. Tomorrow morning over 6,000 children in Scotland will wake up without a permanent home.

The statistics speak for themselves - on average, a household in Scotland becomes homeless every 19 minutes. We are seeing more reports of rough sleepers dying on our streets of our cities. Unknown numbers are sofa surfing with friends and families as they don’t have, or cannot afford, a home of their own.

Last year there were 34,100 homeless applications in Scotland, there are currently more than 10,500 households in temporary accommodation and tomorrow morning over 6,000 children in Scotland will wake up without a permanent home.

Behind those statistics are people, families, individuals – people on low incomes, people with complex needs, people in crisis - some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

For people facing homelessness it is always best to seek help as early as possible before a problem becomes a crisis – no point sticking your head in the sand waiting for the worst to happen.  

Charities like Shelter Scotland can help enforce your rights, advise you on the best way forward – make local authorities deliver what they are legally obliged to do like accessing accommodation – either emergency or permanent -  and try to ensure you get the best possible outcome.

But despite strong laws and policy improvements in homelessness practice over the past decade, there is still a postcode lottery of homelessness service where the gap between what is written in law and what actually happens on the ground is still far too wide. 

To tackle this complex situation head-on and as a matter of urgency, we are campaigning for real leadership and action across local and national government. A new National Homelessness Strategy.

Our evidence of this is clear: why are our legal and services teams spending more and more of their time enforcing people's housing rights, when local authorities have a clear duty to deliver these?

On a national level, to tackle this complex situation head-on and as a matter of urgency, we are campaigning for real leadership and action across local and national government. A new National Homelessness Strategy.

We believe that without renewed leadership and vision, we will continue to endanger the lives of a growing number of people forced to sleep rough on the streets of our towns and cities and condemn many more individuals and families to increasing lengths of time in so-called temporary accommodation or sofa surfing.

This response, aligned with a step change in the delivery of more affordable homes, would perhaps allow us to say, once again, that Scotland leads the world on tackling homelessness.

You can join our campaign and the fight to fix homelessness here.

Picture courtesy of Marc Brüneke

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