I read with great interest a copy of Shelter Scotland’s paper on the latest statistics on homelessness presentations in Scotland. For the second year running, homelessness applications are on the rise and there are many structural reasons as to why this might be the case. Poverty and childhood adversity are widely understood to be the determinant factors that will influence adult homelessness and it would be hard not to notice how many families are being affected by the climate of austerity we are in. Stark reminders loom all around us in the forms of the increasingly visible presence of food banks and street homelessness.
But perhaps a rise in homelessness presentations could be seen in a different, more positive light? The Cyrenians Outreach service works with a group of people who experience homelessness in conjunction with a number of other issues, such as physical and mental ill health. They are, by and large, a group of people who do not appear in statistics as they do not get as far as the help they so urgently need.
Through trying to support people experiencing homelessness, we have learned some people do not make use of housing and health services for two broad reasons. The first reason pertains to trauma they have experienced in their earlier years that has affected their ability to make use of helping or supportive relationships. Why would you trust a fellow human to care for you if that has never been the case before?
The second reason is around the way that help has been offered. Services with criteria for entry or who require you to have an address are but two examples of why people may not be able to make use of the help that is out there. The Cyrenians Outreach team invests a lot of time into working alongside the person to determine where, when and in what form help should be. It is abundantly clear that whoever designed the interventions and their access criteria we have available has not tried to navigate the complex landscape of services themselves.
It is on this basis that I wonder what a rise in homelessness figures might mean. It seems to me that we are already creating the next generation of homeless adults through changes to the welfare state and there are many understandable reasons why homelessness could be on the rise. On the other hand, I live in hope that all the efforts that are being made by the Ending Homelessness Together work and our increased efforts to become a trauma informed Scotland are resulting in a country where it feels a little easier to ask for the help you need.
Mike Wright is Senior Service Manager for Outreach services at Cyrenians. Find out more about our Outreach services here
This winter, we’re sharing some of the stories of those we’ve journeyed with as part of our #12Tales campaign. To see how our Outreach services can help, watch Gordon’s story