Commissioner Diana Noel Paton reflects on the learning of what can be achieved when there is a will and an imperative to do so.
The last few months have been a deeply worrying and distressing time for all of us in so many ways.
The current crisis has hit families and communities in so many traumatic ways, not least the many, many people who have lost their jobs and livelihoods who now face an insecure and uncertain future. We know that the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis will continue to play out over the next months and possibly years creating further poverty and insecurity. In Edinburgh, even before the current crisis, at least 80,000 households were already struggling to pay their rent and bills.
It is without doubt the most disturbing of times – the like of which the vast majority of us have ever lived through.
For one group of people however the current crisis has brought an unexpected but hugely welcome glimpse of hope that we can learn from and build on to help mitigate the worst effects of the economic crisis we are now entering into.
At the end of March the quick action of the Scottish Government and local councils along with the collaboration and effective partnership working of a number of homelessness charities has enabled the vast majority of people rough sleeping in Scottish cities to move into hotels and other accommodation lying empty as a result of the impact of the crisis on the hospitality sector. There they have been supported by expert charities such as Simon Community Scotland.
Right now this decision is directly and positively benefiting those who were previously sleeping rough regardless of their background or circumstances.
Life lived on a cold, wet and unforgiving pavement or doorway, in a shared shelter or on the sofa of an acquaintance becomes a life focused on survival, finding ways to get through the empty hours and days. Coping with the physical and emotional impact of not having any privacy or personal space takes huge energy and headspace.
For many accommodated in this unexpected and unanticipated way, it has provided a much needed and welcome respite and a reminder of some warmth, privacy and a degree of security, along with creating some time and opportunity to take stock; to feel able to accept help and support and to consider the possibility of a different kind of future.
One thing this crisis has taught us is that when needed we can move mountains overnight in ways nobody thought was possible.
We have learnt that rough sleeping and other forms of homelessness can be prevented when there is a will and an imperative.
Over the last few weeks those same organisations, along with many others, have come together to create a new Collective to launch the #EveryoneHome campaign which sets out how, as a nation, we can and must keep the gains made in addressing homelessness during the current crisis.
Now is the moment to think and act big, by putting truly affordable housing at the centre of Scotland’s recovery from COVID-19 to permanently end rough sleeping and to mitigate the expected spike in homelessness envisaged as more people struggle to recover from the pandemic.
This bold and radical initiative is made all the more possible because we have proved that what we thought needed time and apparently unavailable resources can be done fast and effectively. By working together we can end homelessness and ensure that as we go forward anyone losing their livelihood and in danger of eviction continues to have at least a room and a roof over their head from which to base themselves as they try and find a way forward.