Political will needed to tackle homelessness, says Kirk moderator

The Very Rev Dr Russell Barr told the General Assembly that the numbers of homeless people is a stain on Scotlands character and consciousness. Picture: Andrew O'Brien
The Very Rev Dr Russell Barr told the General Assembly that the numbers of homeless people is a stain on Scotlands character and consciousness. Picture: Andrew O'Brien
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A leading churchman has accused politicians of lacking the will to tackle homelessness.

Retiring moderator the Very Rev Dr Russell Barr told the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly that homelessness figures had hardly changed in the past 25 years.

He said: “The numbers of people homeless continues to be a stain on our nation’s character and consciousness.”

With First Minister Nicola Sturgeon sitting in the gallery, he added: “All the research has been done, the causes identified as well as the policies and processes needing to be put in place to resolve it.

“The one thing missing is the political will. Whatever the constitutional future holds for Scotland, I hope the general assembly will speak with one voice in saying this is unacceptable, this needs to change and there should be no room for homelessness in 21st century Scotland.”

Dr Barr, who founded Edinburgh-based charity Fresh Start, which helps homeless people move into new tenancies, said official statistics showed 34,662 homelessness applications to Scotland’s 32 councils in the year to March 2016, of which 82 per cent – 28,226 – were assessed as homeless.

“The figures are little different from what they were 25 years ago and the proportion of applications assessed as homeless has increased steadily from 72 per cent in 2004-05.

“Most disturbingly of all, as of September 2016, 5,751 pre-school and school-age children were registered as homeless – a 17 per cent increase on the previous year.”

Dr Barr said that the length of time families were having to spend in temporary accommodation was increasing – to 24 weeks in 2016 – and he questioned the impact it was 
having on children’s education, health and sense of well-being.

He said that research at Heriot-Watt University on a successful scheme in Finland had led to pilot studies in Glasgow where temporary accommodation was bypassed and people were given permanent flats with the necessary support.