Former Moderator welcomes new proposals to tackle homelessness

A former Moderator of the General Assembly has welcomed a new Scottish Parliament report on combating homelessness.

Very Rev Dr Russell Barr said he was pleased that MSPs had recommended that a "housing first" scheme, similar to a strategy used successfully in Finland, should be introduced in Scotland.

The minister of Cramond Kirk in Edinburgh, who used his year in office (2016-17) to campaign for a change in homeless policy, first highlighted the approach in October 2016.

Russell Barr
Very Rev Dr Russell Barr says homelessness is a stain on society.

Dr Barr said a “collective endeavour” partnership of local authorities, political parties, housing associations and the charity sector should be formed to try and end rough sleeping and reliance on temporary accommodation.

A report published by Holyrood’s Local Government and Communities Committee today said the housing model aims to quickly provide a home to those in need, alongside the right level of support, rather than going through several levels of temporary accommodation.


Convener, Bob Doris MSP, said: “We know there is no quick-fix solution to eradicating homelessness and it still remains a complex issue in Scotland and many other countries today.

“After hearing directly from people who are homeless and those who have experienced sleeping on the streets or sofa-surfing, as well as service providers on the front-line, it was clear that further action is needed.

“That’s why our committee has recommended that the Scottish Government learns from Finland and rolls out a Scottish version of Housing First, as part of a potential solution to addressing homelessness.”

Figures published by the committee stated that there were 34,864 homeless applications made to local authorities in the past 12 months, up 118 applications over the same period in 2016.

There were 6,581 children in temporary accommodation with a majority housed in local authority or housing association accommodation (61%), with a further 16% in hostels and 10% in B&B accommodation.

Housing Minister Kevin Stewart said the committee had highlighted a number of important areas for further work which he would “consider fully and carefully".

Effective route

Dr Barr is a member of the Scottish Government’s Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group.

He is drawing on nearly 20 years of experience leading the Edinburgh charity, Fresh Start, which helps people get back onto their feet.

Dr Barr said: “As the work has developed, the group has had extensive conversations with people who are homeless or rough sleeping to learn as much as possible about what it is like to be homeless.

“Their stories have made for very sad listening.

“Various themes are emerging around prevention, frontline support, measurement and monitoring, and legislation.
“But the key theme is that rapid re-housing to a permanent home becomes the default option wherever possible.”

Dr Barr said there was a realisation that not every individual will immediately choose to take on a tenancy, and some will need high quality and tailored emergency help while other issues are resolved.

“However, all the evidence from around the world, especially Finland, indicates that a Scottish version of what is called 'Housing First' will be the most effective route to follow,” he added.

“The working group has until the end of May to finalise its recommendations to the Scottish Government.

“It is determined to do the very best it can to fulfil its remit and help transform the lives of thousands of people.”