City homelessness spikes but rough sleeping falls dramatically

Homelessness increased by a third over the last year.

Edinburgh homelessness spikes but rough sleeping falls dramatically iStock

The rate of homelessness in Edinburgh has risen by almost a third in a year while a dramatic fall in the number of people sleeping rough has been reported by the city council.

New figures revealed 3,303 households were assessed as homeless in the year to April – a 30% increase from 2021-22.

The council said this represented “a return to pre-covid levels”.

It added that while funding for homelessness services has been given a cash boost, lack of housing continues to be the biggest stumbling block to addressing the issue.

A new report going before councillors next week shows there continues to be huge demand for long-term affordable accommodation, with 24,500 households currently on the waiting list.

Councillor Jane Meagher, convener of the council’s housing, homelessness and fair work committee, said: “It is worth noting that our investment in homelessness services has increased since 2021, so we are investing in it.

“But a major problem is the lack of onward accommodation for people – that’s the problem.

“For every council home that’s advertised we get just under 200 bids, so that illustrates the scope of the problem.”

Homeless charity Shelter said the situation in the capital “is acute” and called on the Scottish Government to “acknowledge the reality of the housing emergency that is devastating lives”.

The upward trend follows a “significant reduction” in homelessness during the Covid-19 pandemic, when a 40% drop was recorded between 2019 and 2021.

Hundreds of people on the streets were given beds in hotels as first lockdown was announced in a bid to stop the spread of the virus while the eviction of tenants was temporarily banned by the Scottish Government.

The end of both of these policies – which were triggered by a health crisis but went some way to address the homelessness crisis – are clearly reflected in the latest figures, which also show a jump in the rate of evictions.

There was an 84% rise in the number presenting as homeless to the council after being evicted by a registered social landlord and a 49% increase in people made homeless from eviction by a private landlord.

The leading cause of homelessness, accounting for over a third of cases, was ‘domestic ejection’ where somebody is made to leave their place of residence.

However, a significant drop in the number of rough sleepers in the city has been reported by the local authority.

The report said before the pandemic it was estimated there were “between 80 and 120 rough sleepers on any one night in Edinburgh” falling to “an average of 21” on any given night in 2022-23. 

“It should be noted that the council does not see all rough sleepers; as some are reluctant to approach the local authority for help,” it added. 

Cllr Meagher said partnerships working with charities such as Streetwork have been “key” to reducing rough sleeping.

She said: “Streetwork in this case have the experience, sensitivity, knowledge and connections that allows them to do an effective piece of work.

“That’s always our approach – we’ll work with anybody.”

Derek McGowan, housing and homelessness director, added: “What we do know is that there are some people who would present as homeless that prefer to be outside than inside, that often stems from their life experience of what’s happened in their life from when they were very young.

“I think the important thing is that we know – and I think we do know from working with Streetwork – who they are and where they’re likely to be and have good relationships with them.

“It’s positive that there are only 21, that we know where they are and we have that kind of support that they want and need.”

“Scotland’s far further ahead in working in this area.”

Shelter Scotland Director Alison Watson said: “Scotland is in a housing emergency and the situation in our capital is acute.

“Life in temporary accommodation can be miserable, especially for children, and it’s shameful that so many people in Edinburgh have nowhere to call home.

“The Scottish Government needs to acknowledge the reality of the housing emergency that is devastating lives.

“Local authorities are stretched to breaking point and it’s not acceptable for Ministers to them to do more with less.

“The only way out of this emergency is for the Scottish Government to deliver the social housing we so desperately need and to give council homelessness services the resources they need to do their job.

“If they don’t it’s inevitable that the situation will get worse and more people will suffer.”

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