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Glasgow finds old solution

August 31 2014
The City Council will use former old people’s homes as emergency homeless housing, after figures showed it was failing in its statutory duty to accommodate homeless people

Glasgow City Council is planning to use former old people’s homes as emergency homeless housing, after figures showed it was failing in its statutory duty to accommodate homeless people in the city.

According to data compiled by the Glasgow Homelessness Network (GHN) in the last financial year 1,016 people approached statutory homeless services, with 547 of them (54 per cent) being told there was no accommodation. This happened 775 times, with one person refused help on 29 occasions. Up to 81 per cent went on to sleep rough on the city streets.

In response (and following a voluntary intervention by the Scottish Housing Regulator earlier this year), Glasgow City Council launched an immediate strategic review of all its homelessness services and started work on securing new housing.

With the review almost finished, and due to be presented to the committee in the coming month, the local authority outlined plans last month to use former old people’s homes across the city to meet immediate demands for housing.

Former care homes Burnbank House, Eskdale and Belleisle House will be used to create almost 100 spaces for those currently being turned away.

It also revealed two new emergency housing units, providing 64 spaces, will be built by April 2016. They have also agreed use of 155 of housing association The Wheatley Group’s flats.

A spokesman for Glasgow City Council confirmed: “Former care homes for the elderly are being brought into use as temporary homeless facilities, and we are also investing £12m in two new units for those affected by homelessness.”

“There used to be a reluctance to admit there was a problem [with rough sleeping in Glasgow],” says Lorraine McGrath, chief executive of the Glasgow Simon Community. “But the whole system is being looked at to get the best possible response.

“There is a huge amount of work going into this. There is an appetite to be as radical as it needs to be. We really hope that we will see some positive change.”

Sandy Farquharson, director of the Marie Trust, a day centre working with the city’s most vulnerable, agrees: “I have to say that Glasgow City Council is now doing all it can to improve services. There are real difficulties – that no one can deny. But it is trying to resolve them, and it is listening.”

Both admit there’s a long way to go. Currently the Simon Community street workers are still giving out between 10–15 sleeping bags a month when their frantic attempts to find someone a bed for the night fail. The Marie Trust sees them at breakfast time when they come to eat and shower.

The plans have not proved universally popular. Councillor Ken Andrews is objecting to the use of Burnbank House, which he says is inappropriate in an area in which single women have been placed for protection following abuse.

He added: “Their previous homeless strategy – or perhaps lack of it – has completely failed. It’s disgraceful that we have a situation where men are sleeping rough. But that doesn’t mean it should be met with a knee-jerk reaction to use accommodation that is not suitable.”

Meanwhile in Aberdeen, the council faced criticism after it emerged homeless people had been put up in hotels. Councillors said that the council had plenty of temporary accommodation at its disposal, which should be better managed.