Analysis: The homeless must be part of the community

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Homelessness ruins lives. Whether it is a mother and her children who have had to leave a violent partner, or an ex-serviceman struggling to cope when he leaves the forces, homelessness means you lack a base from which to run your life.

It is linked with poverty and lack of choice – but people do not always start off that way.

One of my friends, now dead, was an Oxford graduate who had hit rock bottom through his alcohol abuse. The things that make life hard enough – unemployment, mental illness, a history of abuse – all become worse when they lead to homelessness.

2012 is a big year for homelessness in Scotland. In 2002, the Scottish Executive decided that within ten years, all homeless people, not just the most vulnerable, would have a priority need for housing.

Over that same period Scottish Churches Housing Action has developed new, local, volunteer-based activities on homelessness.

These include helping set up two dozen starter-pack schemes: projects that gather good-quality second-hand goods and get them to people in need. This helps prevents homelessness and aids tenants who have been homeless to establish home.

Our message is that homeless people are our neighbours. They have a place in our community, and by showing a welcome, we help include them.

• Alastair Cameron is chief executive, Scottish churches Housing Action