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Edinburgh Live
Edinburgh Live
Danyel VanReenen

Number of Edinburgh homeless soars by nearly two-thirds with 'worse to come'

The number of homeless people in Edinburgh has increased by 258 individuals since the first quarter of 2021 - representing a 64 percent increase.

Forecasts from both Jill Thomson, the City of Edinburgh Council's interim Head of Homelessness, and Gordon MacRae, assistant director for communications and policy at Shelter Scotland, anticipate that those numbers will continue to grow as the city’s housing situation worsens.

“I fully expect we’ll see the numbers return to and exceed pre-Covid levels before long,” Mr MacRae said. “It’s difficult to speculate the future but I do anticipate that we’ll see the figures for homelessness continue growing month on month until full protections are put in place to keep people in their homes.

“The problem will continue to worsen until the government provides full and proper funding for local services and authorities to address the housing and homelessness situation.”

In Edinburgh in particular, Mr MacRae said a lot of issues are compounding to make the situation worse and worse for the city’s most vulnerable.

Gordon MacRae, assistant director for communications and policy at Shelter Scotland, spoke to Edinburgh Live about homelessness in the city. ((Image: Shelter Scotland))

The Scottish government implemented an eviction ban during the pandemic to keep people in their homes. The ban has since been lifted and Mr MacRae the courts are catching up on repossessions and evictions that would have been spread out over a longer period of time in normal circumstances.

“Additionally, more people than ever are struggling to keep a roof over their heads as the cost of living crisis begins to bite,” he added.

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Mr MacRae added that demand for housing outstrips supply in Edinburgh in particular.

“It’s a cliche to say it’s a perfect storm, but it really is a perfect storm. The eviction ban has been lifted, the cost of living is going up, and there’s just not enough houses available for people that need it,” he said.

On Thursday the council’s Housing, Homelessness and Fair Work Committee held a regular meeting and discussed the Homelessness Services’ Performance report.

Jill Thomson, of Homelessness & Housing Support, warned councillors that legislation changes may increase housing pressures on Edinburgh after November.

“Toward the end of November there will be legislation coming in that removes the need for people to have a local connection.

“Essentially that means any household in Scotland can present to any local authority area of their choice and be entitled to full homelessness assistance.

“There is a risk that we will see numbers will rise again. As we said in this report, numbers are rising, they're not back to pre-Covid levels yet, but we have to be aware that that legislation is coming up and will likely have an impact on numbers.”

In early September, the Scottish government announced a ban on evictions and a rent freeze to support people through the cost of living crisis. The fast-tracked emergency legislation is expected to freeze rent and place a moratorium on evictions until at least 31 March 2023.

“There are lots of fast moving changes happening right now and it’s causing a lot of confusion and worry for people across Scotland,” MacRae explained.

“At Shelter Scotland, we’ve had lots of calls from very worried tenants that don’t know whether or not they can pay their rent rises or how to deal with their situations.”

“The eviction ban is good for keeping people in their homes for today, tomorrow and in the immediate future, but it doesn’t solve the long term, underlying issues. It doesn’t address why people are struggling.”

Last Friday, Edinburgh City Council voted to press the Scottish government for emergency funding to address the city’s housing crisis. Simultaneously, councillors are considering a council tenant rent freeze for the third year in a row.

Moving the motion, the Housing, Homelessness and Fair Work Convener Councillor Jane Meagher described the option of another rent freeze as “a humane response to a massive debt crisis where people are facing the toughest financial squeeze of their lifetimes.”

Cllr Meagher said: “We are all in the grip of a cost of living crisis but it is our most vulnerable residents who are on the frontline. Elderly people, those with young families, residents who are ill – many tenants are already facing extreme financial hardship and are struggling at supermarket tills and with their energy bills. We shouldn’t need to add the unbearable burden of a rent rise to that, and we must provide a level of continuity in these uncertain times.”

Addressing the latest statistics on homelessness in Edinburgh Cllr Meagher added: “Unfortunately, the number of households assessed as homeless has been rising gradually following the easing of lockdown restrictions. Encouragingly, as we have noted, the numbers remain lower than pre Covid levels.”

“We are trying very hard to reduce the number of homeless households, mainly through the homelessness prevention activity outlined in the recent Rapid Rehousing Transition Plan annual update.”

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