Scottish homelessness charity warns of worrying spike in people sleeping in cars as cost-of-living crisis hits hard

A growing number of people in Edinburgh and the Lothians are being forced to sleep in their cars due to the cost-of-living crisis, with a concerning spike in households unable to pay their heating bills, according to a leading homelessness charity.

Crisis said it was witnessing a worrying jump in the number of individuals taking shelter in vehicles, with the majority of those impacted single men. The charity also said it was being contacted by an increasing number of families in need of food and clothing for children.

The organisation warned that whereas once it was rare for its Skylight centre in Edinburgh city centre to field requests for support from families, such contact had become “far more common” in recent months to the extent that families are now among its regular service users.

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The trend of people being left with no option, but to sleep in cars will prove particularly alarming for homeless charities, given such individuals are classed as among the ‘hidden homeless’, making it more difficult for outreach workers to offer help.

It comes as Crisis is launching its programme of support over the winter months. The charity will have more than 100 volunteers on hand at its Skylight centre to help deliver services. The facility will be providing hot food deliveries, warm clothing, hot water bottles, and gift packs for people across Edinburgh and the Lothians.

While there is no data to pinpoint the precise number of people sleeping in cars, research by Crisis indicates the problem is significant across Scotland. Its latest Homeless Monitor Report estimates out of the 14,250 households who experienced “core homelessness”, around 880 had used “unconventional accommodation,” such as cars or tents.

Fiona Smith, director of Crisis Skylight Edinburgh, said there was a growing need for the charity’s services at a time when many families were in dire financial straits.

“The cost-of-living crisis has created huge challenges for people already struggling to get by, while high housing costs, combined with rising prices and energy bills, threaten to cause a huge spike in homelessness,” she said. “In that context, action to support those experiencing or at risk of homelessness is vital.

The Crisis homelessness charity said it was being contacted by a growing number of families seeking help. Picture: John Devlin

“No one should be homeless and alone at Christmas. It’s not right that anyone should spend the holidays rough sleeping, in temporary accommodation or separated from friends and family.”

Statistics released last month by the National Records of Scotland showed an estimated 250 people died in Scotland last year while experiencing homelessness. Edinburgh was among the areas with the highest rates of homeless deaths, alongside Glasgow and Midlothian.

The national death tally is down slightly from 2020, when there were an estimated 256 such deaths. However, the total is 52 per cent higher than the first time the figures were produced in 2017.

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In addition to its day-to-day work to help people take their first steps out of homelessness, Crisis will launch a series of events this winter, such as film showings, while making wellbeing calls to check in with its members remotely. The charity will also hold a public carol service in Canongate Kirk on December 7.

Fiona Smith, director of Crisis Skylight Edinburgh. Picture: Crisis

Crisis relies on the generosity of its supporters to provide services for people experiencing homelessness. To make a donation, please go to www.crisis.org.uk/support.

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