THE Scottish Government’s key strategy to end homelessness is at risk of failure because of the added pressure to house refugees from the war in Ukraine, over-stretched council officials have warned.

A blistering memo to SNP Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison says those working on the ground feel “frustration, depression and anger” at the “massive challenges”.

It says the “precariousness” of the system has left councils “desperate”, amid “confusion and shifting goalposts” over the way the refugee programme had developed.

The experts warned the “fundamental impact” of local authorities trying to find places for refugees would be a failure to meet the Government’s pledge to rapidly rehouse other homeless people.

They highlighted an “ignorance” of homelessness within government and an “unwillingness” to recognise the refugee situation could not be handled in isolation.

Opposition parties called it an extraordinary and damning indictment of the Government.

Housing insiders blamed the SNP-Green administration for the strained system, not the refugees.

Despite good intentions, they said ministers had failed to put enough money and manpower into the Ukrainian response on the ground, at a time when councils are already dealing with record numbers of children being forced to live in temporary accommodation.

The stark warnings are contained in a memo summarising a meeting of the Government’s Rapid Rehousing Transition Plans (RRTP) sub-group last month, which was leaked to the Herald.

The group, made up of largely of council officials and some homeless charities, has been tasked with delivering rapid rehousing, the core of the Government’s Ending Homelessness Together plan.

This "key approach" involves prioritising homelessness prevention, and if that fails, moving people into settled households as quickly as possible, rather than temporary accommodation.

The RRTP group’s report has been shared with Ms Robison ahead of her chairing a meeting of the Government’s Homeless Prevention and Strategy Group today.

It is understood the RRTP group has been concerned for some time about the extreme pressure created by trying to house refugees from Ukraine on top of existing efforts to tackle homelessness.

In July, the Scottish Government was forced to suspend its super-sponsor scheme for families feeling Russia’s invasion because it had been overwhelmed.

More than 10,000 people have been offered sanctuary, against an expected initial 3,000, and the Government has relied heavily on temporary accommodation, including two cruise ships.

The memo summing up the RRTP meeting of August 16 said: “The consensus across local authority homelessness services was one of an increasing desperate feeling with regards to the fragility and precariousness of the RR [rapid rehousing] system at present. 

“Members expressed feelings of frustration, depression and anger with the challenging situation around homelessness and pressures from the Ukrainian DP [displaced person] scheme. 

"In general, rural areas are more able to cope with overall homelessness position, however cities are noting backward steps around homelessness.

“Other local authorities attested that they have never experienced pressure to this extent, for as long a term, as they are currently experiencing. The Ukrainian situation is already impacting on this, which will likely continue to make this situation more serious.

“Particular concerns were raised around the scale of numbers being talked about and the uncertainty this leaves - resulting in massive challenges around ability to plan. Serious concerns were raised that this has been draining and resourcing is simply not present to cope with this.” 

It went on: “Whilst understandable given the pace and scale, members referred to confusion and shifting goal posts with regards to the way that the Ukrainian programme has developed over the past few months. 

“This confusion and mixed messaging has been attributed to a lack of joined up thinking.

“Members felt that on the refugee programme there is ignorance on homelessness, with an unwillingness to recognise that the refugee situation cannot be dealt with in isolation; the scale of homelessness in Scotland also has to be dealt with.

“Homelessness services are trying to keep the homelessness and refugee/ displaced persons programmes separate but they are merging which causes confusion.

“Members also raised concerns that they will be unable to deliver the political promise around rapid rehousing, because of the impact of the political promise around supporting refugees.  This, it is believed, will be the fundamental impact. 

“The wider point was raised that a step back on progress towards rapid rehousing may be the result of the pressure on services currently being experienced.

“The meeting expressed the view senior civil servants and the appropriate ministers should be made aware of their concerns.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: "I have never seen a more damning verdict on government policy from those charged with carrying it out.

"The Scottish Government are putting both homelessness services and support for Ukrainian refugees at risk because they have never done the necessary groundwork.

"We urgently need a new call for hosts and a recognition these challenges are interlinked.

“I am extremely worried we will see Hurricane Katrina-style measures with people crammed into sports halls and community buildings this winter unless ministers get their act together."

Tory MSP Miles Briggs added: “It’s clear that the SNP, in the desperate pursuit of positive headlines, didn’t think through the practicalities of their policy on Ukrainian refugees.

“As well as over-promising on what they could deliver for refugees, it’s clear from this document that their lack of planning has had a negative impact on the domestic homelessness problem.

“To be accused of ‘ignorance’ by the very organisation working to prevent homelessness is a pretty damning indictment of the SNP’s record in this area.

“SNP Ministers need to listen to what those on the front line of homelessness prevention are telling them, and act now to prevent further uncertainty.”

Ms Robison said: “The Scottish Government appreciates the pressures and challenges local authorities are currently facing as they address homelessness and those at risk of homelessness. 

"Partnership working is essential to develop solutions that support local authorities while delivering on our shared ambition to end homelessness. 

"The Homelessness Prevention and Strategy Group, an expert group of stakeholders, will meet to discuss the situation and identify next steps.”