SIC housing chief Chris Medley has stressed the local authority is doing all it can to alleviate homelessness after Shelter Scotland said its progress towards meeting a 2012 commitment is “simply unacceptable”.
In a report issued today, Shelter Scotland said its latest statistics showed the SIC is “going backwards, and is not making progress towards meeting the commitment”. It is calling for the Scottish government to intervene to ensure the council lives up to its responsibilities to homeless people and to place housing at the top of the national political agenda.
Shelter Scotland said the SIC was one of only three out of 32 local authorities in Scotland which was going backwards, while one had already met the commitment, seven were ahead of schedule and another 14 were making good progress.
It wants to see more homes built, as well as those already existing being protected and refurbished in order to help the thousands of families throughout the country who are stuck waiting for a home.
Director of Shelter Scotland Graeme Brown said: “Shetland Islands Council’s lack of progress towards meeting the 2012 homelessness commitment is simply unacceptable. With only two years to go, the council needs to take urgent action to meet its responsibilities to homeless people or Scottish ministers should intervene to make it happen.”
He continued: “We know times are tough and local authorities like Shetland Islands are under increasing pressure, but our commitment to give everyone the right to a home by 2012 is a legislative requirement that cannot be shirked from. Other councils who face similar pressures are performing far better.”
Last year, the SIC agreed to set aside £20 million over the next five years for a major programme of house-building to address a waiting list for accommodation which is approaching 1,000. In August, the green light was given for a major development of 76 new council houses at Hoofields, replacing the existing 32 chalets in the area, and there are also embryonic plans for new builds on parts of Staney Hill and elsewhere in the isles.
Mr Medley stressed that the “homelessness” being referred to was distinct from being “roofless”. He accepted most of the criticism from Shelter Scotland, but believes the council is doing the best it can to address the situation. “I would agree with everything except that we’re going backwards,” he said.
“We do need to build more homes, to increase the number of houses available. But it’s not just about council housing: homeless strategy is linked to a whole range, homelessness prevention, educating people, economic development – a whole range of things.”
Shelter Scotland’s statistics show that just over two per cent of applicants in 2009/10 had slept rough the night before seeking assistance. Mr Medley said he did not want to reject that statistic, but pointed out that the incidence of people sleeping rough is “much lower than in most other places”.
He said: “It could be a whole range of circumstances – fallouts between partners, children falling out with their parents who then tell them to leave, staying on a friend’s couch. There are lots of people that are potentially homeless, not necessarily roofless – that is the distinction. They may have no home of their own to go to, but they may still be under a roof somewhere that’s maybe not desirable or not the best place for them to be.”