Rough Sleeping (Audit)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 5th October 2017.

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Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

6. To ask the First Minister whether the Scottish Government will undertake a national audit of the number of people who are rough sleeping. (S5F-01613)

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

The programme for government sets out our national objective to eradicate rough sleeping. We are backing that commitment with a £50 million ending homelessness together fund. We have also established a short-term homelessness and rough sleeping action group, which is chaired by the chief executive of the homelessness charity Crisis. The group, which meets today, will make recommendations on what further actions need to be taken on rough sleeping, including, of course, the additional information or data that we need to gather.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

I welcome the establishment of the homelessness and rough sleeping action group. Does the First Minister recognise that rough sleeping is, sadly, on the rise, that it is likely that we face a further increase in rough sleeping through a bleak winter, and that it is urgent that we act? I am sure that she agrees that it is not acceptable that anyone is sleeping on the streets anywhere in Scotland.

Shelter Scotland has confirmed that the number of homelessness applications in which the applicant had slept rough the night before making the application increased by 10 per cent last year. In view of that increase, does the First Minister agree that it would be helpful to have a fresh assessment of the scale of the issue, through the action group? According to Homeless Action Scotland, there has not been an audit since 2003.

I ask the First Minister—in a constructive manner—to consider taking a housing-led approach and not a hostel-led approach. While recognising that the work of the charity sector and local government partners is key, does she agree that there is a case for national roll-out of the housing first model—I know that she has acknowledged that model in the past—which recognises the multiple disadvantages that homeless people face when trying to establish stability in their life? I hope that she will agree—

The Presiding Officer:

Okay, Ms McNeill. That is enough.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

I hope that she will agree that it cannot simply be left to the charity sector. The Government must lead from the front.

The First Minister:

The Government is leading from the front, which is why we have established the £50 million fund that I mentioned and have set up the expert group that meets for the first time today.

As I think that Pauline McNeill knows, I am very sympathetic to some of those issues, but we have set up an expert group to give us ordered recommendations on the actions that it thinks are most important for us to take forward. That may well include an audit. If that is the case, we will, of course, carry it out.

There is a debate about what the member characterised as the housing versus hostel approach. The expert group may well make recommendations about that, too.

One of the things that I see as being among the most important is that we do not see the matter as just an accommodation issue—whether the accommodation is houses or hostels. The way to tackle rough sleeping is to provide the package of support that is needed around people, so the housing first model that Pauline McNeill mentioned is important. I have already said that it offers opportunities for individuals with more complex needs in helping to stabilise their lives and to prevent repeat homelessness. Again, the reason why we have set up the expert group is to look at the issue to make sure that we are doing the right things.

We know that rough sleeping is increasing—I said that when I set out the programme for government. We also know—this takes us back to Alex Rowley’s question—that the increase in rough sleeping and homelessness generally is very much driven by the welfare cuts that we have already spoken about. Unfortunately, we cannot deal with the whole problem at source—I wish that we could—but we can make sure that we are doing as much as we can to deal with the consequences, and we will continue to do exactly that.