Between a Rock and a Very Hard Place

Welcome to the New Year and the new decade. The Noughties began on a wave of optimism and energy. The new Scottish Parliament and ministers prioritised work to end homelessness. The Homelessness Task Force combined the expertise of the public and voluntary sector and developed the most progressive strategy in Europe. Ministers boldly proclaimed that we would end homelessness by 2012. Unprecedented levels of funding were targeted at ending rough sleeping and modernising off the street accommodation.

So where are we now as the decade that started so hopefully ends and another begins?

It remains the case that by 2012, under Scottish legislation, all unintentionally homeless people should have access to a permanent home. (Currently, only people in ‘priority need’ – generally families with children – have the right to permanent homes. All others have access to only temporary accommodation and support. By 2012, with the gradual roll-out of the existing legislation, there will be no distinction and everyone will have the right to a home). The goalposts have not been moved.

But it is evident to everyone concerned that we face a massive and widening gap between the demand on local authorities and their ability to supply homes, let alone the range of helping services that are essential in providing effective and lasting solutions to homelessness. We enter the new decade facing unprecedented reductions in public sector funding, with a growing atmosphere of frustration and blame.

Whereas the Noughties started with genuine public and voluntary sector partnership around the bold vision to end homelessness, we ended it with the public sector as dispassionate commissioners, needing to squeeze every penny out of contracts, and the voluntary sector tendering for survival in competition not just with each other but also, increasing, the private sector. Some contrast!

This is an observation, not a criticism. There are good people in all sectors trying to do the best they can and sharing a commitment to social justice. The decade ahead of us will be a time for pulling together. For charities like Cyrenians it will be a time to dig deep into our resources to continue to come up with creative solutions for hard times.

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