A NATIONAL housing emergency has been declared by a major homeless charity after the number of people seeking help surged to record numbers.

More people than ever before were given advice by Shelter Scotland after approaching the charity over worries they would not be able to keep a roof over their heads, or were already facing life on the streets.

The rise in people fearing homelessness has been blamed on harsh welfare cuts, the high cost of keeping a home, stagnant wages and a shortage of affordable houses on the market.

Graeme Brown, Director of Shelter Scotland, said that rough sleepers were "dying on the streets" and called for greater action to tackle homelessness.

He said: “Last year we had to help more people than ever before, which is why, in our 50th anniversary year, we’re not celebrating.

"We thought that by now bad housing and homelessness would be largely a thing of the past, but instead our services are needed more than ever."

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HeraldScotland:

The charity's annual report revealed that it provided help to 21,290 people last year, an all-time high. Its website was accessed at a rate of 17,000 times per week with demands for information, with half of those getting in contact saying they needed advice on how to keep their homes.

Nearly two in three people who came to the charity were women, with the majority speaking of struggling to afford housing costs as the biggest problem they faced.

The pressures were revealed to be nationwide. In formerly oil-rich Aberdeen, hit hard by the downturn in the industry, 70 per cent of all calls were from people worried about losing their home, the highest figure in the country.

The spike the numbers turning to the charity for aid comes after the number of applications for homelessness in Scotland rose for the first time in nearly a decade this year.

Official figures show there were 35,000 people living on the streets or in shelters, staying in temporary accommodation or 'couch surfing' with friends by June this year. 

The Shelter Scotland report also contained a warning of a ticking timebomb, with young people making up nearly half of those who sought advice about homelessness last year.

READ MORE: 38 children a day made homeless last year

HeraldScotland:

Mr Brown added: "The number of homeless children is at a 10-year high. Unknown numbers are sofa surfing with friends and families as they don’t have, or cannot afford, a home of their own.

“Behind those statistics are people, families, individuals – people on low incomes, people with complex needs, people in crisis - some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

“These are the people we help day-in, day-out and, until there’s a decent, safe and secure home for everyone, we’ll carry on fighting for everyone in Scotland facing bad housing and homelessness.”

Almost 40 per cent of those appealing for help were private renters – a disproportionately high number compared to the size of the private rental sector, which makes up just 15 per cent of all housing in Scotland.

Clients were helped via Shelter Scotland's free national helpdesk, digital chat service and one-to-one advice sessions.

Ewan Aitken, Chief Executive of the homeless charity, Cyrenians, fully recognised the figures revealed by the Shelter Scotland report.

He said: "There is without question more people feeling a heightened level of anxiety about their home, their jobs and their relationships.

"As the Shelter reports says, we are encountering more people under greater pressure than ever before because of the ongoing policies of austerity.

"And it's not just the number of people finding themselves without a roof over their heads. If you are not feeling secure in your house you can't call it a home."

READ MORE: Call for action over rise in rough sleepers

HeraldScotland:

Last year the Scottish Government introduced the Private Housing (Tenancies) (Scotland) Act 2016, which improves security for tenants and strengthens their rights.

Housing Minister Kevin Stewart said: “As ending homelessness is a priority for the Scottish Government we have established a £50m fund and the 70 recommendations from our Action Group, which Shelter Scotland was part of, are being worked into an action plan in partnership with the sector.

"Shelter Scotland are right to point out the impact the UK Government’s harsh welfare cuts and wider economic factors are having on people and the increased risk of rent arrears and homelessness this causes.

“We back their call for housing support to be returned to a level sufficient to prevent homelessness and for certainty on whether Brexit will increase the numbers of those unable to receive support through housing benefit or universal credit.”