The Scottish Liberal Democrat leader said the rate of homeless deaths is three times higher in Scotland than in the rest of the UK as he pledged to introduce new legislation to strengthen the duties on public bodies to tackle the problem.
He also said his party would work to end rough sleeping and homelessness by providing both housing and other support services to people who need help, create new “pathways” for young homeless people to housing as well as jobs and training, and build 60,000 new affordable homes, including 40,000 for social rent.
Mr Rennie said: “Whether it’s living on the streets, sofa-surfing or shuttling between temporary accommodation, these situations take a huge toll on people’s mental and physical health. It also exerts a huge toll on children’s education and development. It stops people getting on in life.
“Homelessness in Scotland and across the UK has long been a national scandal. The work that was done at the outset of the crisis was striking, but it also raised questions about why interventions on this scale couldn’t have been done before.
“Many nationalist voters that I speak to have seen doubts creep in over the way that the government finds time for new independence legislation but not for cracking down on the scourge of homelessness.”
Around 100 homeless applications are made each day in Scotland and 216 people who were registered as homeless died in 2019 – an increase of 11 per cent on the previous year, with more than half the deaths being drug-related. There are also around 150,000 people on council housing waiting lists in Scotland.
As well as building new homes, Mr Rennie said his party would offer “renovate loans” to bring derelict homes back into use and to re-establish social renting as a valid long-term option for people.
He added: “As we build back from the pandemic, we have a chance to do things differently. I want to deliver new homes and an end to homelessness and rough sleeping through new prevention legislation and by taking forward the Housing First and Rapid Rehousing principles."