Scotland

Number of homeless 'unchanged for 20 years'

The Right Rev Dr Russell Barr Image copyright Church of Scotland

A new strategy is needed to tackle homelessness in Scotland, according to a senior figure from the Church of Scotland.

The Right Rev Dr Russell Barr will tell a conference in Edinburgh that the number of homeless people has remained largely unchanged for 20 years.

Scottish government figures show almost 35,000 people made homeless applications last year.

Ministers said progress was being made on the issue of homelessness.

The Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland said homelessness was "demoralising, degrading and dehumanising".

He called on local authorities, political parties, housing associations and charities to launch a "collective endeavour" to tackle the issue.

Dr Barr said the co-operation model had been successfully developed in Finland - the only western European country to significantly reduce the number of homeless people in recent years.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption There were about 35,000 homelessness applications in 2015/16

Scottish government figures from 2015-16 show that 17,822 children and young people belonged to households applying to be registered as homeless, from a total number of 34,662 applications.

In 1996, there were 40,989 applications, according to the housing charity Shelter.

The Moderator is addressing the Scottish Churches Housing Action event, at which he will warn there is "little hope" of resolving homelessness unless Scotland begins to emulate Finland's approach to the issue.

Dr Barr told BBC Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme that issues like low wages and zero-hours contracts contributed to homelessness.

He said: "Despite the fact there's been a lot of good effort by national government, by local authorities and by third-sector charities, it's stayed the same for a number of reasons.

"Firstly, because there's not been enough houses or social housing built over the last 20 years and secondly, because there's not been as joined-up and as integrated an approach to resolving it among all the different parties as there needs to be."

'Increasing supply'

Dr Barr said there was "no difficulty" in understanding the contributory factors that lead to someone becoming homeless.

He said: "It's been very well researched. There's no difficulty in understanding. The challenge is to move from simply managing it, which is what we're doing at the moment, to aspiring to resolve it."

He added: "Issues around low wages, issues around zero-hours contracts, these are all part of the mix that lead to people getting into difficulties with paying rent, with paying mortgages and end up to folk becoming homeless."

Housing minister Kevin Stewart said: "Everyone in Scotland should have a safe and warm place to call home.

"That is why we are increasing housing supply and are committed to delivering at least 50,000 affordable homes backed by over £3bn investment during the lifetime of this Parliament, building on the 30,000-plus homes we have already delivered.

"The most recent figures also show that progress is being made and there has been a 6% decrease in the number of households assessed as homeless, continuing the downward trend of recent years - but we know more needs to be done."

He added: "That is why we are providing funding and working closely with local authorities and the third sector to help prevent homelessness and ensure the strong housing rights homeless people have in law are delivered."

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