Dundee is an “exemplar” of how to help rough sleepers and homeless people – with that support to continue post Covid-19, the leader of the city council has revealed.
It was reported to Holyrood last month that rough sleeping in Scotland had been reduced to a “handful” of people – but there will be a huge challenge to find accommodation for them once Covid-19 lockdown measures end, MSPs were told.
Margaret-Ann Brunjes, director of the Homelessness Network Scotland, said remarkable progress had been made on rough sleeping when she addressed the Scottish Parliament in May.
At the start of the lockdown, hotels and other buildings were used to house hundreds of rough sleepers in Scottish cities, however, some of these measures are due to end in July, leading to concerns some people will return to the streets later in the year.
Speaking to the Tele about the issue, council leader John Alexander said: “In terms of rough sleeping, it’s never really been a significant challenge in Dundee.
“And even where you see people begging on the streets, for example, almost all of them will have accommodation, that isn’t necessarily the reason they are on the streets, begging for some money and looking for some support.
“So, Dundee’s been well-placed in terms of the amount and supply of accommodation we’ve had, so pre Covid-19, for eight years, Dundee was one of the councils that have never had to use B&Bs (to house the homeless) for example. And that was a real positive thing for us.
“And that’s because we’ve deployed a real partnership model, working with the likes of Action for Children, looking at Transform, and building a series or network or accommodation of different types – furnished and unfurnished, flats, houses etc – to try and meet the needs and demands on that service.”
Mr Alexander, who represents the Strathmartine ward, said that more than £5 million was spent by the local authority each year to tackle homelessness.
He added: “Dundee is often held up as an exemplar in this area because of the work we do, and I think many other local authorities have learnt from that as well and are trying to adopt that strategy.
“We are turning no one away, even during this crisis. If somebody requires support, if somebody requires accommodation, then we have an ability to be able to provide that, and we will absolutely do that, and leave no stone unturned to support them – whether it’s during this crisis or after.”
Aileen Campbell, who is the Holyrood cabinet secretary for communities and local government, said the pandemic had, in some areas, helped to improve support for vulnerable people, including the homeless, with organisations working together during a time of an unprecedented crisis.
She said: “We talked about how difficult and tough the pandemic has been, and no one is putting that to the side.
“But, in amongst all that, there have been remarkable gains in policy over the last wee while, where we see people, organisations, groups, authorities – different things coming together and really rolling their sleeves up and getting on and sorting problems that maybe before we had been scratching our heads about, for a long time.
“Rough sleeping has been one of them and there have been remarkable efforts across the country, and in other cities as well, to try and ensure that people who were at more risk of the pandemic, because of their precariousness and their housing situation, were supported.”