Established 2005 Registered Charity No. 1110656

Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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A hand-hold to grab on to, before it's too late

March 06 2012
The Edinburgh Cyrenians Homeless Prevention Service‘s advice can keep you in your home 


For one, it started with a letter about rent arrears, which was thrown in the bin. Another, struggled with depression, couldn’t work and the money ran out. Several lost their jobs and didn’t know where else to turn. And for one 17-year-old, it looked like homelessness was just around the corner when her mum left.

But all of them kept their homes thanks to the Edinburgh Cyrenians Homelessness Prevention Service, which works with people at risk of becoming homeless for the first time in at least three years because they are in a difficult financial position, are battling addition or facing relationship problems.

Now the charity is calling on the Scottish Government to take heed of its recent evaluation of the service, which showed it had an almost 100 per cent success rate in stopping people from becoming homeless, and invest in prevention services.

Orla Doyle, managing director of Edinburgh Cyrenians, took some time to speak to The Pavement and explain what the service, which will celebrate its third anniversary next month, is all about. “The Homeless Prevention Service works with people who haven’t been homeless before and is very much about intervention and getting in there early,” she said. “We are a short-term service and on we work with people on average between four and six months who have either been referred to us or have referred themselves.

“If [the individual] has a difficult situation with their landlord, we provide a landlord-tenant mediator. Most of the people who come to us have some kind of debt or rent arrears - especially considering the current financial climate- so we do a lot of working out what benefits people are entitled to; back-dating housing benefits; sorting out housing or repair issues; maximising their income.”

Under the service, Edinburgh Cyrenians helped 475 people last year and continue to reach out to even more. A recent report, surveying a sample of 50 people who engaged with the service, showed some very encouraging results.

In employment, 11 people secured jobs; in finance, rent arrears dropped from a total of £25,339 to £5,935 and the number of people with rent areas dropped dramatically from 29 to 11. Only three out of the 376 people who the service worked with in 2010/11 became homeless.

The charity is expecting a busy year ahead, Doyle explains: “I think we’re going to be busier than ever this year, looking at what’s happening. People are being made redundant, who have worked all their lives. This is tough, especially with all the big welfare reforms. That’s a big part of what we do - we are trying to inform people of what’s going on.

“The important thing to consider is the impact of someone being presented with homelessness. They may face eviction and it will drastically reduce their chances of getting a job.”

Having calculated the potential savings local authorities would make utilizing prevention services; charities such as Edinburgh Cyrenians want people at risk of homelessness across Scotland to have the support of prevention services.

Doyle admits that the feedback they have received has been “amazing” - so many see the service as vital. Luckily, they have funding until at least March next year but they must continue to prove to Edinburgh City Council that they are a service worth keeping. “The service has been really successful and in terms of the people that we’ve worked with - if there wasn’t a prevention service - I’ve got no doubt that they would have presented themselves as homeless. The feedback has been amazing,” she said.

But like so many voluntary organisations, they are at the mercy of the funding landscape. “We must continue what we’re doing, continue improving the service where possible and get it out there and prove it is working so that the council will keep us!”