£2,142-a-month homeless accommodation that traps people in poverty '“ Dr Beth Watts

This week, the Scottish Government published a plan seeking to end homelessness in Scotland. This ambition, announced last year, saw the appointment of an Action Group which made more than 70 recommendations about how Scotland might achieve that end, with a heavy focus on how to transform the country's temporary accommodation provision to ensure it provides a positive stepping stone away from homelessness.

Temporary accommodation for homeless people is not fit for purpose, says Beth Watts (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)
Temporary accommodation for homeless people is not fit for purpose, says Beth Watts (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)

Around 20,000 households enter temporary accommodation every year in Scotland, with 11,000 households living in such accommodation awaiting rehousing at any one time.

A new report commissioned by Social Bite and written by Heriot-Watt University explores in detail what Scotland’s current temporary accommodation system looks like in six local areas and how the people accommodated within it fare. It also explores what stakeholders in the homelessness sector make of the Action Group’s recommendations to focus on “rapidly rehousing” those experiencing homelessness and raising standards in temporary accommodation.

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It finds that the current temporary accommodation system is not fit for purpose.

We spoke to 43 local experts and 52 people with current or recent experience of living in the three main types of temporary accommodation used in Scotland: ‘ordinary’ temporary furnished flats in the community, hostels and bed-and-breakfast accommodation.

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The research shows that dispersed, self-contained housing is the best form of temporary accommodation because it offers people relative ‘normality’ during the time they are struggling.

But there are also bad experiences even in this ‘best’ kind of temporary accommodation, with people sometimes allocated flats that were profoundly unsuitable for them. We met families where parents and children, or siblings, were having to share not just rooms but even beds, and where people were sleeping on sofas due to lack of space.

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We also met families whose accommodation was so unsuitable given enduring health issues (for example, because access was only via several flights of stairs) that they had had to leave work and were isolated in the accommodation.

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Other people reported being accommodated far away from friends, family, services that they use regularly, and schools, all of which came with negative impacts on their levels of stress and well-being.

B&B accommodation is the worst form of temporary provision, because people often lack access to even basic facilities and to the support they need. The study also shines a light on the sometimes very challenging environments people face in poorer quality hostels, though some hostel provision is of a much higher quality and offers people access to appropriate support.

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In both B&B and hostel environments, people’s autonomy and well-being can be severely constrained by the rules they are subject to, and the challenges of living in a congregated environment with other people, many of whom are struggling with support needs too.