Edinburgh risks repeating the housing mistakes that have made central London inaccessible to many people, amid a growing homelessness crisis resulting in hundreds of families being stuck in inadequate B&Bs for months at a time, a charity has warned.
Shelter Scotland told the Guardian that the Scottish capital was being harmed by long-term underinvestment in affordable housing, an acute shortage of suitable temporary accommodation for homeless people, and the growth of short-term lets such as Airbnb.
Graeme Brown, the director of Shelter Scotland, said: “What we are seeing is a hollowing out of affordable homes in the city centre, with rising homelessness throwing into stark relief this lack of housing supply.
“Edinburgh enjoys huge success as an international city, but we have to ask if it is starting to repeat the same housing mistakes that are so well documented in London, where the city is becoming increasingly unaffordable and inaccessible to ordinary households, not least to the most vulnerable in our #society.”
Despite pioneering legislation introduced by Holyrood earlier this decade, statistics suggest progress in tackling homelessness has stalled, with more than 3,000 households assessed as homeless in Edinburgh each year.
The Scottish National party government pushed the issue back up the political agenda, last year pledging to build 50,000 affordable homes by 2021 (35,000 of them for social rent), and setting up a £50m fund and an action group aiming to eradicate homelessness.
But Brown warned: “We are at risk of slipping backwards on our world-leading approach to homelessness. We need to look at the system we have and understand why it’s not delivering, not just chase new initiatives as a distraction to making tough choices about where we need to focus or invest.”
With one in10 homeless families spending more than a year in temporary accommodation, Shelter Scotland is concerned that the focus on Housing First – the rapid rehousing model for entrenched rough sleepers, recently promoted by the successful Social Bite social enterprise and supported by the Scottish government – may divert limited resources away from more prevalent forms of homelessness.
“There is an understandable excitement around the Housing First model and it is something Shelter Scotland has been advocating for the better part of a decade. However, in those places where Housing First has been successfully introduced, it has required a major investment of public funds to ensure that there is choice in terms of the types of suitable homes available, as well as the appropriate level of wraparound support for the individual. These are things that Scotland currently simply does not have and we cannot just ignore this reality,” Brown said.