By Grant Campbell

Making sure everyone has somewhere to live during the pandemic shows us homelessness can be ended

There has been a real effort from governments and local authorities across Great Britain to get people off the streets and into hotel rooms, apartments and other forms of self-contained accommodation, so that everyone can follow the guidance and try to protect themselves during the outbreak.

This has been crucial in helping to save the lives of so many – people facing homelessness, particularly those who are rough sleeping, are hit uniquely hard by this pandemic. They are three times more likely to experience a chronic health condition such as asthma and COPD. As the weeks and months continue, we know that the increasing pressures on the economy, and people losing their jobs could mean a rise in people being forced into homelessness too.

Scotland has long been a world leader in its approach to tackling homelessness and it is good to see the Scottish Government’s commitment to giving people somewhere safe to live at such a time. But, while it’s absolutely right that everyone has been supported into hotels, it is important to remember that this is a necessary emergency response to the pandemic – it’s not a long-term solution.

The speed at which people have been housed should give us much hope that homelessness can absolutely be ended. In a matter of weeks, everyone who needs somewhere to live – including those with no recourse to public funds – have been given self-contained accommodation, and they have access to healthcare, food and the extra support they need.

This makes the case loud and clear that there is no need for people to be sleeping on our streets.

The people we speak to living in hotels tell us they’re grateful for being able to have a proper bed, soap and access to three meals a day, but the fear among some is abundantly clear. With no end in sight at the moment to this current crisis, the lack of information as to how long people will be able to stay in their rooms is understandably concerning.

One major concern is what will happen to those people who are homeless and have no recourse to public funds because of their immigration status. It is great that they now have self-contained accommodation – but there’s still a huge need for extra support to be put in place, such as providing information about the pandemic and what it means in their own language, or translators being made available.

As the barriers that were once in place to finding someone a safe and settled home – like low levels of housing benefit – are being lifted in light of the outbreak we are seeing more options open up. Frontline staff at Crisis are noticing increasingly numbers of affordable properties in Edinburgh, meaning that we have more opportunities to move people into safe, stable housing. We must not see these obstacles reinstated – the Scottish Government must work with Westminster to ensure that when the pandemic subsides, we are left with a proper welfare safety net.

Coronavirus has brought the needs of those without a home to the forefront of our minds. We now need the Scottish Government to go further to ensure that everyone will be supported into long-term, settled housing as soon as possible. Hotel rooms are not homes, and there’s no reason why people should be living in these for weeks or months on end. Nor can we see people leaving their hotels and being forced to go back to the streets or to other forms of unsuitable temporary accommodation.

It shouldn’t have taken a pandemic to prove we can end rough sleeping across Great Britain – and we shouldn’t use the end of the crisis, when it comes, as an excuse to go backwards.

Grant Campbell is director of Crisis Scotland