Comment: can rough sleeping in Scotland get a fresh start?

Maggie Brunjes, Homeless Network Scotland’s chief executive, asks – can rough sleeping in Scotland get a fresh start?

Just weeks before the Covid-19 crisis emerged, we held a partner’s event on the theme of rough sleeping.

There were more people in the hall that day than there were people outside with the prospect of another night with nowhere to go. A comment on the strength of commitment and shared sense of unfairness. But also the crowding of a problem which has a relatively simple solution.

In these recent weeks, hundreds of people previously sleeping rough or in unsuitable B&Bs are now being supported in hotels, short term lets and other temporary places. Mobilised rapidly, it has been the most remarkable cross-sector response during the Covid-19 crisis.

But what happens next?

It is too simplistic to say that replacing rooms with houses at the close of this pandemic will end rough sleeping in Scotland. This of course is not a single group, but a constant ebb and flow of different people moving in and out rough sleeping and temporary places, sometimes more than once, often going through the toughest times of their lives.

But it will really help. Resolving current rough sleeping and putting the brakes on the risk of it happening across the full duration of the pandemic has not just ended the risk and trauma for people affected. It has also created a window – a small amount of space for local authorities, housing and third sector partners to capitalise with new measures to prevent new episodes of rough sleeping later this year, which will have a knock-on effect next year and beyond.

And that is the break we have never caught before.

COVID-19 has forced faster progress on key fronts. It is imperative not only to protect that progress, but to ensure there is no backwards movement in local and national efforts to tackle homelessness in the aftermath of the pandemic. That needs helped, but not crowded. So we have connected with leading academics and organisations to quickly plot where we can add value together, and how we can help develop the right framework to ensure we round up and not down post Covid-19.

More on that soon.

You can view the report from ‘joining the dots’ rough sleeping event.