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Scotland’s homeless support is ‘struggling to cope’

Alison Watson told MSPs the current model of temporary housing tackled rough sleeping but offering insufficient homeless support.
Scotland has the highest rate of homeless deaths of any UK country. Image credit: Ev/Unsplash

Homeless support in Scotland is “struggling to cope” with the complex needs of many vulnerable people in hotels across the country, according to the director of charity Shelter Scotland.

Alison Watson told MSPs at the Scottish Parliament’s Covid-19 Committee that the current crisis has exacerbated Scotland’s housing emergency, with the current model of temporary housing tackling rough sleeping but offering insufficient help for those at risk.

Liberal Democrat MSP Beatrice Wishart asked what more could be done to ensure these groups are not left behind.

Ms Watson highlighted those with substance dependency, as well as survivors of domestic and sexual abuse, as those most in need of additional support among Scotland’s homeless population.

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Shelter Scotland’s director said the emergency measures put in place to reduce homelessness during the pandemic, including the provision of hotel accommodation, have helped.

But Ms Watson said the issues with housing so many in hotels need to be properly understood, warning the system is “struggling to cope”.

She said: “I think there’s a lot of success in taking that as an opportunity to say here’s a group of people who are in one place, we can build relationships with them and understand what their issues are and work with them. Our concern would be that that’s not happening for everyone, particularly people with more complex needs.

“What we see is a system struggling to cope, to put enough support in place to avoid a situation where in effect we’re bringing together in these hotels a large number of people with significant vulnerabilities, and that feels to us dangerous in the context of not having sufficient support, nor sufficient accommodation to move people on.

Shelter Scotlands Director Alison Watson appearing during a virtual meeting of the Scottish Parliaments Covid-19 committee
Alison Watson
Alison Watson warned Scotland's support systems are being stretched during the pandemic. Credit: Scottish Parliament TV

“If we can’t accommodate people just now, there’s a danger we see a dramatic spike in rough sleeping when the emergency protections and the investment that make that possible are removed.

“We need to understand what is currently working, and where what we’re seeing is overstretched resources simply not being able to cope and reach everybody.”

The charity’s director was among a number of representatives giving evidence on what they believe the next steps should be in managing and recovering from the pandemic.

Ms Watson also said Scotland had an opportunity as it emerges from the grasp of coronavirus to eradicate homelessness, praising the government’s initial response to the pandemic in providing shelter for individuals.

Shelter Scotland supports the extension of the emergency legislation in place to protect renters and homeowners across the country, suggesting many of these could become permanent fixtures in law beyond September this year.

She said: “Before this pandemic Scotland was already in the grip of a housing emergency. We need to recognise that being housed is vastly different from having a home.

“Now is not the time to take off the emergency protections that have done so well, and we also can’t have a cliff-edge.

“I think as we begin to look, to hopefully the end of the pandemic, we need to recognise we’ve got a unique opportunity here as we can decisively end Scotland’s housing emergency.”