HOUSING and homelessness experts have demanded an urgent meeting with Shona Robison to discuss unprecedented strains on the sector, including Ukrainian refugees.

Almost 40 third sector bodies and charities, many funded by the Scottish Government, have signed a joint letter calling for talks with the SNP Social Justice Secretary.

The group said it was difficult to recall ”when circumstances have aligned so acutely and with so much pressure on our housing system in Scotland”, particularly on council homelessness services. 

The factors include the cost-of-living crisis increasing the numbers of homeless people, the Scottish Government’s welcome for refugees from Ukraine, and Home Office plans to disperse 4,500 more asylum seekers across Scotland by the end of 2023.

“In simplest terms, as things stand, there is not an adequate supply and turnover of temporary and permanent housing to ensure everyone can access the home they need to build and live their lives,” the letter says.

“Together, we are asking the Cabinet Secretary and the Scottish Government to make an urgent and strategic intervention and investment that will ensure local authorities and the third sector are supported to meet this increased demand for housing and support effectively.”

Offering to help the Government in the task, the group identified 10 priority areas for action, including more state investment in social housing providers and homelessness charities to help them buy property on the open market and return empty properties to use.

Other recommendations include accelerating the building of affordable homes, “fully funded” council housing and homelessness service, and accurate monitoring of rough-sleeping, 

The letter also suggests “rapid briefing” of Government civil servants on the interaction between devolved and reserved policy around immigration, housing, health and social care.

“The Ukraine Programme should be embedded with the existing structures of refugee integration, to build from the New Scots strategy framework and the knowledge and experience of managing reserved and devolved matters,” it says.

“As we move into autumn and winter, we must protect the progress that Scotland has made on reducing rough sleeping, on preventing destitution, on defending human rights. 

“And most importantly, we must ensure that fairness and people’s dignity and safety is centred in each and every solution that is in scope.”

The signatories include the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations, the Scottish Refugee Council, Glasgow City Mission, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Shelter Scotland, the Homeless Network Scotland and the Salvation Army.

The letter, written last week, was leaked to the Herald.

We reported yesterday how council housing officials had warned Ms Robison about the “desperate” situation with local authority homelessness services as they struggled to handle existing caseloads as well as trying to house refugees fleeing Russia's invasion.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats yesterday urged the Scottish Government to give councils more cash to vet potential host households,after it emerged 700 were still unchecked. 

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We are steadfast in our commitment to preventing and ending homelessness, working in cooperation with local authorities and our other partner organisations to achieve this. 

“Housing Secretary Shona Robison acknowledged the concerns raised at Wednesday’s Homelessness Prevention and Strategy Group meeting, and welcomed proposals put forward by the Everyone Home Collective. 

“The Scottish Government is already taking forward some of these proposals and we will carefully consider the collective’s other recommendations.

 “We are providing local authorities with £52.5m for rapid rehousing to ensure people are given a settled place to live as soon as appropriate. 

“We are also reviewing the operation of our Warm Scottish Welcome to ensure we can provide appropriate and sustainable longer-term support to displaced Ukrainians.

“Scotland has delivered 111,750 affordable homes since 2007, over 78,000 of which were for social rent. And we have now started to deliver against our commitment to 110,000 affordable homes by 2032, of which at least 70% will be available for social rent.”