From the Manse

Dear Friends

Drawing on my 20 years with Fresh Start, during my year as Moderator I used every opportunity the role gave me to
highlight the continuing scandal of homelessness in Scotland.

As well as visiting many projects supporting people who are homeless in London, New York, Toronto and throughout
Scotland, time and again in meetings with the Prime Minister, the First Minister, MPs, MSPs and local government
councillors I drew attention to the fact that the number of people registered by Scottish local authorities as homeless is
little different from what it was 25 years ago.

What really grabbed everyone’s attention however was the shocking fact that these figures included over 5,700 pre-school and school-aged children. 

Along with their families, these children are staying in temporary accommodation and, as if to make matters worse,
the time spent in temporary accommodation has been increasing year on year.

You don’t need to be a child psychologist to know the cost to their health, education and sense of well-being is enormous.

As I am sure you have also been aware, having spent a year living in Edinburgh’s city centre, it has also been very
noticeable that the number of people sleeping rough in shop doorways, side alleys of the city centre as well as the cemetery around St Cuthbert’s Church, has also been on the rise.

So you can imagine my delight when Nicola Sturgeon announced the creation of a short-life Scottish Government
Task Group to advise ministers on what needs to be done to tackle the issue.

Jon Sparkes, the CEO of Crisis, has been appointed to chair the Working Group and along with people from local
government, housing associations and the 3rd Sector (including Josh Littlejohn of Social Bite and David Duke of
Scotland’s Homeless Soccer), I was invited to join it.

With a very tight timescale (late Spring 2018) the remit of the Working Group has been shaped around the following four questions:-

1. What can be done to reduce rough sleeping this winter?
2. How can we end rough sleeping?
3. How can we transform the use of temporary accommodation?
4. What needs to be done to end homelessness?

Scotland’s Housing Minister, Kevin Stewart, attended our first meeting and assured the Group of the Scottish Government’s commitment to ending rough sleeping, preventing homelessness and transforming the outcomes for those who experience it.

Mr Stewart also told us that a new £50 million fund was being allocated to the task.

The appointment of the Working Group could not be more timely because, with the ongoing shortage of affordable social housing, benefit cuts (especially to 18 – 21 year olds) and funding cuts to local authorities, all the indicators suggest the number of people becoming homeless is on the increase. 

Will it be possible to make homelessness a thing of the past?

It won’t be for the lack of effort because at the Group’s first meeting it was good to see not only a wealth of wisdom and experience around the table but a real passion to make a difference and to move from a position of barely managing the situation to one of trying to resolve it. 

In a few weeks we will celebrate Christmas and the birth of the Christ child.

As you know, the Christmas story is about a heavily pregnant woman making a long and difficult journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

Luke reports that with every room at the inn being taken, and having sought shelter in the stable, Mary delivered her child, wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger.

Given there was no room for Jesus, what better way to celebrate our Saviour’s birth than praying and working for the
day when there will be no room for homelessness in 21st century Scotland.

With every blessing

Russell Barr

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