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What does it mean to be homeless in Edinburgh?

Homelessness is defined as living in housing below the minimum standard or a lack of secure tenure. In Scotland, a household becomes homeless every 18 minutes. Commonly, main reasons for homelessness in Scotland are disputes within a household or a relationship breakdown; people being asked to leave their accommodation by landlord of lenders, harassment or abuse within a household; leaving hospitals, prisons or care space; and emergencies such as fire or floods.

Photo: The Sunday Post

Housing associations and council housing are an affordable rental option for people living in lower income brackets, provided by non-profit and government organisations respectively. The Right to Buy policy has been a key player in the UK housing crisis since the Thatcher era. It gives tenants of councils and some housing associations the right to buy, at a large discount, the council house they are living in . After its introduction in 1980, 494,580 council housings and housing associations were sold but only a fraction were built in Scotland, leaving an increasing number of homeless people no place to go. In 2016, the SNP were the first UK administration to end the Right to Buy policy and have vowed to build 50,000 affordable homes by 2021 of which 35,000 will be for social rent.

Despite the fact that Edinburgh is the second fastest growing city in the UK, Shelter Scotland has warned that it is at risk of a housing crisis comparable to that in London. New figures have shown a drop in homelessness by 20% over the past 5 years but is this a true improvement? Workers on the ground were witnessing a rise in rough sleeping - people sleeping in open air - on streets, parks, buses and doorways - and in February 2018, the council acknowledged a homelessness crisis.

Under the homeless status, a person is entitled to temporary accommodation while the council investigates. There has been an increase in the use and length of stay in temporary accommodation in Edinburgh due to the increasing length of open homelessness cases. But the Edinburgh council has been found to breach suitable temporary accommodation standard 540 times within a year. They have recently submitted a rapid rehousing transition plan which outlines a strategy to eradicate temporary accommodation within 5 years. This involves building more social homes to ensure availability for the number of people presenting as homeless every year.

Although homelessness in Scotland is on the decline, there is still a significant amount of work to be done to improve the situation. Scotland in eliminating the Right to Buy policy has shown a commitment to tackling this issue. The Edinburgh council has developed strategies which will help people who are already homeless as well as prevent people at risk of becoming homeless through income support and education on rights as tenants.

By Anushka Kapoor

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