National charity Crisis has said that homelessness in Scotland is a political choice warning that the fact thousands of children are languishing in housing limbo is  "shameful".

Matt Downie, chief executive of the charity for people experiencing homelessness discusses what he feels needs to happen to end the housing emergency as we revealed that every day 50 Scots children are being hit by homelessness while the numbers languishing in housing limbo temporary accommodation because they cannot be found settled homes has hit record levels, having more than trebled in 20 years.

The fact that thousands of children are growing up in temporary accommodation in Scotland is a national scandal.

The number is the highest on record – in fact records within the homelessness system are being broken across the board. A record number of children growing up in hotels and B&Bs. A record number of households in temporary accommodation overall. The number of people experiencing homelessness in Scotland is at its highest since records began.

This is the reality of the housing crisis in Scotland. More people forced to sleep rough on the street, or in tents or industrial premises. Rising numbers of people sleeping in cars and vans, because they don’t have anywhere else to go. People being turned away from services with the offer of a sleeping bag, instead of the offer of accommodation.

The quality of temporary accommodation in Scotland can vary hugely. In some cases it’s of a high quality, indistinguishable from any other furnished flat, but in other cases, people are being forced to live for months, even years, in places that fall far from meeting their most basic needs as human beings.

Families are living in flats infested with damp or mould. Children complain of rats running around their bedrooms at night. People are living without access to laundry facilities, or are forced to share a microwave between dozens of people, making cooking anything cheap or healthy almost impossible.

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In fact many of the people we support own two kettles, because they struggle to access any cooking facilities in the accommodation they are provided. They use one kettle to make hot drinks and the other for warming up food. In other cases, people are warming up food on radiators.

Families are being moved from B&B to B&B, often every few days. They have a roof over their head, but they do not have a home. And the echo effects go well beyond housing – with the disruption to their lives leading children to miss school. Parents struggle to get to work. Lives are uprooted, visitors are often banned and people can be required to live under tight curfews.

It’s a system that leaves you unable to plan for the future. That, in turn, impacts your mental health. That leads to more pressure on the health service, in the criminal justice system and beyond.

(Image: Crisis)

We see it in official figures and in our frontline services – sit in our reception on any given day and the human face of this crisis is obvious, with more people coming through our doors each week, and with local authorities and homelessness services expected to pick up the pieces, despite huge constraints on their finances.

It is clear we have to act, to stop more people being forced into homelessness. Because the sad truth is that, in our frontline work, we encounter people whose homelessness could have been prevented, through getting support earlier, time and time again. These are people who needed a bit of help – people who lost their job, or contracted an illness or injury, or who had a breakdown in a relationship.

Yet instead of receiving help when they need it, they are being forced to reach a point of crisis before they can get support, with emergency measures, such as temporary accommodation, all too often treated as the default response to someone experiencing a problem with their housing.

And that failure to prevent homelessness is leading to growing pressure on the system, which, in turn, is forcing local authorities across the country to rely on poor quality temporary accommodation to house people. Because as the system comes under greater and greater strain, the worst quality temporary accommodation is all there is left.

So how can Scotland end the housing crisis? The answer goes beyond action in the housing sector.

We need a social security system that treats people with dignity. That means the UK Government committing to long term investment in Local Housing Allowance, to ensure Housing Benefit covers at least the bottom third of rents.

We need to see investment in social housing, to provide high quality homes for people to move into.

We need support for local authorities, which are working under greater pressure every day, with less and less room to manoeuvre. They need help to rehouse people into settled homes.

And we need to change the law, through the Housing Bill, to allow people to get help earlier and to widen responsibility for preventing homelessness. The changes would allow people being able to get help up to six months before they are at risk of losing their home, and would mean public services in health, justice and beyond are required to play a greater role in homelessness prevention. We need a system where no one leaves a hospital or prison and walks straight into home.

Because just as the problems caused by homelessness echo beyond housing, addressing the national housing emergency declared by government would reap benefits across the rest of society too.

Investment in new homes and changing the law to help prevent homelessness would take pressure off struggling wider public services. Ending the housing crisis would save local authorities money and, by lowering housing costs and freeing up people’s money to spend elsewhere, investing in housing would reduce levels of poverty. Most importantly, it would stop more people experiencing the pain of losing their home.

Because we need to be clear – homelessness is a political choice. The fact that thousands of children in Scotland are living in temporary accommodation is shameful. What is even more frustrating is knowing that, with the right political will and by working together, we could stop this from happening if we wanted to.

Building social homes, acting to prevent homelessness earlier, and investment in the social security system, so people can live in dignity. Doing these three things would help Scotland create a truly world leading homelessness system.

We can stand by and watch as more people are forced into homelessness – as more children are robbed of a childhood – or we can create a different future. We need to act now, to prevent homelessness from happening in the first place, and build a Scotland where everyone has a safe, secure place to call home. Because the status quo is not an option.

Matt Downie is chief executive of Crisis, the national charity for people experiencing homelessness. Crisis operates frontline services for people experiencing homelessness, while also campaigning for the changes needed to end it altogether.