Moderator in fresh plea to end homelessness

Dr Russell Barr
Dr Barr at Fresh Start, the Edinburgh-based charity he established in 1999.

The Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland has issued a fresh challenge to end the “continuing scandal” of homelessness.

Right Rev Dr Russell Barr said he believed the country’s leaders knew how to tackle the problem but questioned whether they had the will and heart to do it.

Speaking at Dunkeld Cathedral on what is Homelessness Sunday, he said Scotland was at best managing homelessness and had “long lost the ambition” to eradicate it.

In 1999, Dr Barr, minister at Cramond Kirk in Edinburgh, established a charity called Fresh Start which helps people who have been homeless turn a new tenancy into a home of their own.

He is using his year as Moderator to highlight what he has called an “obscene” “damning indictment” on modern society.

Scottish Government figures for 2015/16 show 34,662 homeless applications were from households.

And 17,822 children and young people under 18 are members of these households – a situation the Moderator described as “shocking and shameful”.

Dr Barr said the scale of homelessness is largely hidden but the numbers of people registered today is roughly similar to what it was over 20 years ago.

“As today is Homelessness Sunday, the continuing scandal of homelessness in Scotland is what I would like to speak about this morning,” he added.

“I have never been homeless, but since establishing Fresh Start I have glimpsed something of what a dreadful experience it is to be homeless - demoralising, degrading and dehumanising.

“One of the lessons I have learned is that for most people the experience of homelessness is a stage in their life, a very difficult stage, but with appropriate support that person is able to pick up the threads and live a more normal life again.

“Another lesson I have learned is that homelessness is not just about bricks and mortar and a roof over someone’s head, it usually involves a break-down in a wider and far more complex network of relationships.

“Fundamentally it is about poverty, poverty of circumstances, poverty of education, opportunity and experiences, and especially poverty of good and healthy relationships.”

Dr Barr said he had visited homelessness projects in New York, Toronto, and London as well as throughout Scotland during his term of office so far.

“It is evident to me that at best what we are doing in Scotland is managing the situation and we have long lost any ambition to end it,” he added.

“I am determined to use my year of office to rekindle that ambition among politicians, civil servants and church members

.“I am also persuaded we know what to do to end homelessness in Scotland.

“The real question is whether we have the will and heart to do it.”

Dr Barr said giving food and drink to people begging on the streets or sleeping rough is never a fault.

But he added that supporting charities like Glasgow’s Lodging House Mission or Edinburgh’s Bethany Christian Trust would make a “real difference” to their lives.