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The time is now to end homelessness

By Sally Thomas, SFHA Chief Executive 

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Every 18 minutes, someone in Scotland becomes homeless. Scotland’s councils spend approximately £660 million a year on temporary accommodation. Homeless people are 3.5 times more likely to visit A & E than the least deprived and the effect of homelessness on children and young people has a direct impact on wellbeing and behaviour.

When the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations held its first Homeless to Housed conference in December 2018, the statistics above surprised many of the delegates.

We heard from a variety of speakers about the impact homelessness has, not just on society but on every aspect of Scotland. From children’s ability at school to the cost to the NHS to the cost of putting homeless people and families up in temporary accommodation. Housing Minister, Kevin Stewart, our keynote speaker, was passionate that homelessness is not just an issue for the housing sector but affects all sectors in Scotland.

Social landlords house around 70% of households assessed as homeless, which means that every year, there are still many households waiting to be housed, while a further 25,000 people will present themselves as homeless. All of this indicates to an urgent need for investment in housing, particularly social housing.

Using the Home First model – where the primary focus is moving homeless people direct into permanent housing – Perth and Kinross Council managed to reduce its spend on temporary accommodation from £4 million in 2010/11 to just £1 million in 2017/2018. Reduction of costs like that can only be sustained if investment is made in social housing to provide safe, good quality accommodation.

The ripple effect of increasing housing stock and housing homeless people would be felt in cost-savings to the NHS and the Government, a better quality of life for Scotland’s people and would allow Scotland to become a leader in tackling homelessness in the UK.

The Scottish Government has made a commitment to deliver at least 50,000 affordable homes by 2021 and is backing it with over £3 billion. SFHA members generate additional investment off the back of the Scottish Government’s investment to build the quality, accessible safe homes we need to address Scotland’s housing needs.

In addition, the SFHA and Construction Scotland Innovation Centre (CSIC) launched a funding call to provide support for housing associations and cooperatives. This was part of a strategic partnership between SFHA and CSIC aimed to help housing associations to use digital technology and off-site construction to increase the numbers built and the quality of new affordable homes.

The funding call was a key element of the SFHA’s Home of the Future work and was put in place to help housing associations to innovate and to use modern methods of construction (MMC). Successful projects will enable the retrofit of existing homes, or to the development of new build affordable housing.

MMC has the potential to increase quality and energy efficiency while addressing the construction skills gap – there is a shortage of skilled construction workers and this shortage is likely to increase as members of an ageing construction workforce retire. Brexit may also have an impact on immigrant workers coming to Scotland and the UK .

SFHA’s long-term vision for housing in Scotland is the creation of a Property Democracy. We believe that by 2040 everyone in Scotland should have a good home in a successful community, offering a range of high quality, affordable, safe and accessible homes that meet people’s changing needs and aspirations throughout their lives. The housing system of the future should be tenure neutral, with new models of housing created to meet a range of needs, and all tenures meeting the same high standards for energy efficiency, build quality and accessibility.

Achieving this vision is important. There is an outstanding demand for affordable housing that will continue to exist after the end of the 50,000 homes programme. Moreover, the supply of a range of quality affordable housing will play a significant role in meeting the Scottish Government’s objectives on issues from homelessness and fuel poverty to health and social care, child poverty, equality of opportunity, and sustainable growth.

As the minister said at our conference, “the time is now” to end homelessness and investment in housing is integral to that goal.

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