Former Moderator welcomes Scottish Government commitment to tackle rough sleeping

A former Moderator who used his term in office to veraciously campaign against homelessness has welcomed a new Scottish Government commitment to tackle the “continuing scandal”.

Very Rev Dr Russell Barr said he was pleased there would be an increase in emergency accommodation and outreach provision for rough sleepers in Edinburgh.

Outreach capacity will also be boosted in Glasgow and Aberdeen.

Russell Barr
Very Rev Dr Russell Barr says homelessness is a stain on society.

Dr Barr is a member of the government’s Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group which has recommended the measures to address rough sleeping this winter.

The proposals have been accepted in full by the Scottish Government.

They are:-

  • Boost multi-agency partnership working, adopting ‘by name lists’ and empowering front line workers through direct access to services and dedicated accommodation
  • Making personal budgets and/or flexible emergency fund available for front line staff to employ where maximum flexibility is required to meet immediate housing needs
  • At times of extreme weather, ensure flexible provision is available in Edinburgh and Glasgow for anyone who will not use winter night shelters, despite all efforts
  • Maximise use of Nightstop – which provide young people with emergency accommodation for up to 2 weeks in the homes of approved volunteers – in Edinburgh and support implementation in Glasgow by January 2018

The Action Group was convened in October and has worked at pace, and closely with local authorities and partners, to identify areas where there is the greatest need and actions that can have the most impact.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was today joined by Housing Minister Kevin Stewart and Action Group chair and Chief Executive of Crisis UK, Jon Sparkes, to announce the government plans on a visit to homelessness charity Streetwork.

Dr Barr, minister of Cramond Kirk in Edinburgh, said: “During my year as Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 2016-17, I highlighted the continuing scandal of homelessness in Scotland

“And living at the official residence in Edinburgh night after night, I was painfully aware of people sleeping rough in the shop doorways, side alleys and cemeteries.

“I am hoping today's announcement will be the first in a series of steps that will help us resolve not just rough sleeping but the blight of homelessness in 21st century Scotland.”

Temporary accommodation

Dr Barr said it was very heartening that Ms Sturgeon made the announcement personally.

“The working group was her initiative and the fact she is leading the announcement underlines her commitment to the task the group has been given to do,” he added.

The action plan is backed by an initial £328,000 worth of investment from government and Action Group members.

Scottish Government figures, up to the period March 31, 2017, show that 82% of applicants in need - 28,247 assessments out of a total of 34,267 - were assessed as homeless or threatened with homelessness.

This proportion has increased steadily from 72% in 2004-5 but has since levelled off and remains unchanged since 2015/16.

There were 10,873 households in temporary accommodation across Scotland, an increase of 330 households (+ 3%) since 2016.

Of these households in temporary accommodation, 3,250 had children – an increase of 367 households (+13%) compared with one year earlier.

The Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group. The Scottish Government.

Ms Sturgeon said: “I want to thank the Action Group for the serious and urgent work they have done.

“These actions, which the government accepts in full and will roll out immediately, will provide more support for those who find themselves homeless and more safe and warm places to stay this winter.

“We have a shared commitment to eradicate rough sleeping and end homelessness which is why we established the Action Group, backed by £50 million to drive change.

“While we take these immediate steps to help those who find themselves at risk of rough sleeping this winter, the group’s work now continues as we strive to end rough sleeping for good.”

Dr Russell Barr
Dr Barr at Fresh Start, the Edinburgh-based charity he established in 1999.

Mr Sparkes said it was critical to support as many people sleeping on the streets as possible as the cold weather bites.

“However, the longer-term focus of the Action Group is on sustainable solutions which prevents people rough sleeping in the first place and our focus is now on looking at the practical and systems changes required to end rough sleeping for good,” he added.

“These proposals mean that immediate, effective support can be given to people sleeping rough this winter, as well as making longer-term solutions easier to access.

“The effort and energy of Action Group members to work quickly to identify practical support along with the willingness of council leaders and sector colleagues to commit to more flexible practices at short notice has been remarkable.

“The decision to accept our recommendations and the fact that the First Minister is leading on the Scottish Government’s commitment to accept our recommendations and provide additional funding is vitally important."

Mr Sparkles said Ms Sturgeon’s commitment inspires confidence that the leadership required to meet the long-term goal of ending homelessness in Scotland is in place.