We operate all year round to help people take their first steps out of homelessness. That can be through housing advice, welfare support or through helping people with qualifications.
But over the past few months, as the cost-of-living crisis has intensified, demand for our services in Edinburgh and the Lothians has shot up. With each passing day, more and more people are being forced to turn to homelessness services for help.
The cause is clear. Unaffordable housing costs, combined with rising energy bills, soaring food prices and skyrocketing inflation. All of these factors are coming together to push people who – until now – have always just about managed to get by, closer and closer to homelessness.
This should not be a surprise to anyone. We know what happens when people’s housing costs rise beyond their income.
Pressure builds up in their life, and they start to make cutbacks. They reduce their spending. After that they need to cut more and more. Eventually those choices become impossible, with people forced to choose between paying an essential bill and heating their home, or feeding their family. That’s when the pressure becomes too much.
In Edinburgh, the cost-of-living crisis has led to a rise in people coming for help who have never encountered these sorts of problems before. We are seeing more people sleeping in their cars – usually single men – and more demand from families as well. It’s heart-breaking, but the truth is increasing numbers of families are struggling to provide clothing for their children, or to pay for enough food to get by from week to week.
This is new for us. Families rarely came to us for support in the past. Now it is much more common – and we are getting these requests more often with each passing week.
We urgently need to see action to stop more and more people being driven into homelessness. But while we strongly support Scottish Government plans to strengthen homelessness prevention – through people getting help earlier, and widening responsibility for preventing homelessness – these changes will take time.
In the short term, the most effective change would be for the UK Government to invest in support for housing costs so that it covers the true cost of people’s rent. Doing that could relieve pressure on households across Scotland almost overnight.
Until that happens, anxiety continues to grow over the impact of the cost-of-living crisis this winter. Our Christmas services are launching this week and, as we do every year, we will provide food, supplies, wellbeing packs and social activities for people experiencing homelessness. With the help of more than 100 volunteers, we will also offer podiatry, haircuts and other services to promote wellbeing.
Yet although Christmas is always a particularly difficult time of year for people experiencing homelessness, as we pack up our supplies and get ready to distribute, it’s hard to escape the feeling this year will be harder than ever.
But we can’t give up. We know what the problem is, and we know the solutions. By working together, we can end homelessness.
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.
- Fiona Smith is the director of Crisis Skylight Edinburgh