Shelter: Why are people homeless in Scotland in 2015?

A homeless person sleeps rough behind the Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh Picture: Ian Georgeson
A homeless person sleeps rough behind the Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh Picture: Ian Georgeson
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Homeless charity Shelter examines why people are homeless in Scotland in 2015.

LAST year 35,764 families and individuals made a homelessness application in Scotland. That’s nearly 100 households every day. 9,063 (25 per cent) of those households included children.

Adam Lang, Shelter Scotland

Adam Lang, Shelter Scotland

Scotland offers a strong and progressive safety net for homeless people.

However, before a settled home is found for people who have been assessed as homeless, they will often find themselves in temporary accommodation provided by their local authority.

Temporary accommodation is a roof over their heads - not a home - and far too often families or individuals have to stay in places that few of us would choose, sometimes for weeks, months or even years before a settled home is found.

Even the 35,764 figure doesn’t tell the full story. There are homeless people who can’t, or for a variety of reasons don’t, access this help.

Homeless person on Princess Street. Picture: Greg Macvean

Homeless person on Princess Street. Picture: Greg Macvean

Research in Glasgow last year showed that about half of those receiving support from homelessness charities had not approached their local authority. So, we know that the real picture is far bigger.

The number of ‘hidden homeless’ people in Scotland – sleeping in doorways, tents or sheds, moving between friends’ sofas and spare rooms – isn’t currently known. But we can – and should - be concerned for the safety and well-being of these individuals, as these are often the most vulnerable people in our society.

Why - in a country as prosperous as Scotland, with a Government-level focus on social justice – does Scotland still have homelessness in 2015? What leads people to find themselves without a roof over their head?

Research from Ipsos Mori earlier this year showed that a third of Scots believed the main cause of homelessness was alcohol or drugs addiction. But a Salvation Army poll found 43 per cent of residents at a homeless shelter are there because of a relationship break down. Just 10 per cent gave drugs or alcohol as the reason for their situation.

This is reflected in the Government’s 2014/15 homelessness statistics, which showed that for more than half of households being either ‘asked to leave’ or experiencing relationship breakdown, sometimes involving violence, was the reason for them becoming homeless.

Other common reasons for homelessness include leaving hospital, prison, care or the forces, landlords terminating tenancies and being evicted due to rent arrears. Of those assessed as homeless last year, only 11 per cent had a drug or alcohol dependency.

Last year Shelter Scotland helped more than 16,000 people through our free national helpline and our service teams - with more than 50 per cent of those people helped giving homelessness, housing costs and landlord issues as the main reason for needing help.

Alongside the individual stories, there are bigger, structural reasons for why we still have homelessness in Scotland in 2015.

The relentless programme of welfare reforms in recent years has made managing rents increasingly difficult for thousands of the poorest and most vulnerable households in Scotland.

Many of the safety nets that used to be there to help when people fell on hard times are now harder to access, squeezed to within an inch of existence, or gone entirely. Alongside this we have a chronic lack of affordable homes available: the supply of social homes is failing to match demand – 150,000 currently on council waiting lists - and private rents are some of the highest in Europe.

The high price tag on housing puts increased pressure on families, pushing some into poverty and putting a heavy strain on family finances and relationships.

The latest official statistics show that 710,000 people are currently living in severe poverty in Scotland.

Shelter Scotland helps over half a million people every year struggling with bad housing or homelessness through our advice, support and legal services and we campaign to make sure that, one day, no one will have to turn to us for help. We’re here so no one has to fight bad housing or homelessness on their own.

Adam Lang is head of communications and policy at Shelter Scotland