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‘National disgrace’ of more than 7,500 Scottish children now in accommodation for homeless

RISING numbers of children are living in temporary accommodation for the homeless as the typical stay for families has nearly doubled over a year in some areas to 58 weeks.

Despite moves to curb the use of temporary accommodation, it has emerged that the number of children languishing there has risen from 6,795 in March 2019 to 7,510 at the end of September.

Meanwhile, the number of temporary accommodation placements that have been in breach of the Unsuitable Accommodation Order has more than doubled from 110 in January to March 2019, to 250 in July to September 2021. 

The order was brought in for pregnant women and families with children who are homeless from being accommodated in hotels or bed and breakfast accommodation for more than seven days.

The numbers of children being placed in “unsuitable” B&B rooms has doubled over the past year-and-a-half from 40 to 85. And the number in women’s refuges has risen from 100 to 120.

Homeless Action Scotland said there needs to be a rise in investment in social housing to deal with the problem.

Temporary accommodation is an address where individuals and families can go if they become homeless and is meant to be a safe place while councils decide what to do next.

The Scottish Housing Regulator found that in 2019/20, people spent an average of 228 days in temporary accommodation provided by Scotland’s biggest local authority, Glasgow City Council, compared to the Scottish average of 184 days. 

Data released for October 2021, has shown that has nearly doubled to 58 weeks.

When lockdown began in March, hundreds of rough sleepers were taken off the streets to help slow the spread of coronavirus. With temporary accommodation full, many were placed in hotels.

But campaigners raised concerns that B&B accommodation and hotels were not fit to deal with people in crisis, and that consequently homeless people were losing out on access to drug and alcohol addiction services and mental health care.

Some 2,000 homeless people were housed in B&Bs in Glasgow alone in the first nine months while new rules were delayed that were meant to ensure they are only to be used in emergencies and for no more than seven days.

At its peak, as many as 600 homeless people were in in B&B and hotel accommodation in Glasgow. Concerns about the use of B&B accommodation for the homeless during the coronavirus pandemic came into sharp focus in 2020 following the deaths at the Alexander Thomson Hotel of five men and four women.

An estimated 256 people died while experiencing homelessness in Scotland in 2020 – a 20 per cent rise in a year – with more than half of the deaths being drug-related.

The hotel, used as homeless accommodation during lockdown, closed in December 2020, reportedly for refurbishment.

According to the Glasgow City Health and Social Care Partnership, by the end of December, 2020, the numbers in temporary B&B accommodation fell from 617 at the peak of the pandemic to 467. 

Last month the Scottish Government said councils were to be handed an extra £16m over the next two years in a bid to reduce the number of families living in temporary accommodation.

The cash – which will be split between all 32 local authorities – will help fund the concept of “rapid rehousing” which speeds up the process of finding permanent accommodation for those who declare themselves homeless.

But critics have described the funding as “a drop in the ocean” and nowhere near enough the amount required to get to grips with the issue.

In November, 2020 the Scottish Housing Regulator said the Glasgow council had failed in its legal duties to homeless people by not ensuring there was enough suitable temporary accommodation for them before the coronavirus pandemic.

During 2019/20, the council told the regulator that it failed to offer temporary accommodation on 3,786 instances when households required it – an increase of 445 on the previous year.

The regulator said this meant the council “failed” to comply with its “statutory duty” to offer temporary accommodation in nearly 1 in 3 occasions when people required it.

Shelter Scotland said there was “alarming” evidence of families with children being turned away without the council knowing where they would sleep that night, and of single people being sent to sleep on the streets with the council’s knowledge. 

Gavin Yates, chief executive of Homeless Action Scotland said: “The damage that homelessness causes to children in particular is absolutely clear and understood. We all know that. There has been a severe lack of investment in social housing, which is clearly distinct from so called ‘affordable housing’. Until social housing is built according to the needs of our society, we are going to continue to see children languish in temporary accommodation.

“I’m frankly sick of warm words and promises – it’s time for a much deeper commitment to actually build houses for people to rent. The current ‘jam tomorrow’ approach is causing misery today. It is also time for a serious discussion about fast-tracking families through the current homeless system now.”

In the six months from April to September 2021, 14,161 households lost their homes across Scotland, an increase of 4% compared to the same period in 2020. Nearly 4,000 of those households included children. 

The figures also show that at the end of September last year there were 13,191 households stuck in temporary accommodation.

Shelter Scotland said that ministers needed to show greater ambition to end homelessness in Scotland. “These figures are a sharp reminder that communities across Scotland are suffering in the grip of a housing emergency brought about by decades of underinvestment in social housing,” said director Alison Watson.

“Home is everything and it is a national disgrace that thousands of households, and more than 7,500 children, are stuck in temporary accommodation.”

Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison said: “The number of households in temporary accommodation is too high.

“The best way to reduce it is to prevent homelessness from happening in the first place, and we are consulting on plans to introduce new legal duties on public bodies, landlords and local authorities to act sooner to prevent somebody becoming homeless. 
“Our investment focused on supporting low-income households reached around £2.5 billion in 2020/21, with nearly £1bn focused on children in low-income families. We will publish our next Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan in March and it will outline the transformational actions we will take alongside our partners in our continued efforts to tackle child poverty.”

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