New permanent homes for men who faced life on the streets

The flats provide accommodation for nine formerly homeless men in Edinburgh.

New permanent accommodation has opened in Edinburgh for men who faced homelessness.

Thorntree Mill, in Peffermill, provides flats for nine formerly homeless men who have also suffered mental health issues.

The second home of its kind was refurbished by Common Ground Against Homelessness and leased to Rowan Alba.

Andy Smith, who moved into the property having been in and out of homelessness for 19 years, described the facility as making “a world of difference”.

“It’s nice in here, the beds are nice, you get good food, you’ve got your washing facilities,” said Andy, who had struggled to find a home due to issues with alcohol addiction.

“You’ve got everything you need. You can’t ask for any more than that.”

Thorntree Mill was opened following the success of the Thorntree Street home in Leith, which has been running for 20 years, accommodating 94 men with an average stay of seven years.

Helen Carlin, chief executive of Rowan Alba, said: “You’ll know the difference when you are staying at a hotel or when you are staying at home.

“Until you have something that you can call a home and it’s safe and it works for you, you are not going to settle.

“So until we have a couple of Thorntrees in every major city, we are not going to eradicate street homelessness in Scotland.”

Edinburgh currently has the highest number of homelessness cases (6,198) in Scotland, according to recent Scottish Government figures.

The number of people living in temporary accommodation in the capital rose by 9% between September 2021 and September 2022. 

Ms Carlin believes the government needs to do more to tackle the issue. She said more ‘homes for life’ projects would prevent the need for “costly” temporary accommodation.

Ms Carlin said: “From research we conducted, we found that for every pound we spend on revenue for a Thorntree model, you save the public purse £3, so there are very compelling arguments morally and financially for this sort of service.”

Around £700,000 for the permanent home was raised through community shares from 207 investors.

Major grant funding was also obtained through the Nationwide Building Society community grants, The Clothworkers’ Foundation, Crisis and the Quaker Housing Trust. 

Attending the launch of Thorntree Mill, the Scottish Conservatives housing spokesman Miles Briggs said: “It’s absolutely critical that we see more examples like this built across Scotland because we clearly have huge demand.

“At the moment, resources are not going to the right places, and we need to support more models like this.”

The Scottish Government has said it was providing £100m to “transform” the homelessness system, with £30.5m for councils.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government welcomes initiatives such as Rowan Alba’s for helping provide permanent housing for people experience homelessness.

“Our rapid rehousing approach means prioritising prevention and, if homelessness occurs, then households are provided with appropriate settled housing as quickly as possible, moving away from the use of temporary accommodation as an automatic first response to homelessness. 

“We have already taken action to reduce the number of households in temporary accommodation and the time spent there. We are now progressing further measures and have commissioned an action plan from experts in the sector to inform this work.”

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