CEO response – Scottish homeless figures

1 February 2023
Lorraine McGrath, Simon Community Scotland CEO, has written a new blog following the release of the latest Scottish homeless figures

Figures released yesterday (31st January) highlighted that there were 28,944 open homelessness cases in September 2022 – the highest number of people experiencing homelessness since Scottish government records began in 2002.


Sadly, this didn’t come as a surprise to the team at Simon Community Scotland. We experienced an overwhelming increase in the need for our support in 2022. Our teams provided information, care, support, advice, accommodation and homes to over 8,000 people experiencing, or at risk of, homelessness. This was up from 6,000 people in 2021.


What are the drivers for this increase?  Most likely a whole combination of factors as we emerged from a pandemic, straight into a cost of living crisis and life pressures increasing at every turn.


The vast majority of the people we support will have a place to sleep, but it is not a home, not their home, but somewhere they have been allocated as emergency shelter or temporary accommodation, where they may have to remain for many months or years.


I have never met someone who chose to be homeless. Some feel they have no other choice or can’t see a way not to be, but that is very different  from actively choosing such a harmful and traumatising way to live.


In Scotland we have improved how we respond when people reach the point of need and face a homelessness crisis. Far fewer people now experience long periods of rough sleeping. However, too many people are in places not designed for long term living, like hostels, b&b’s or hotel rooms and we have yet to find better ways to stop people reaching that crisis point at all. 


Plans are in place to improve how we find people at risk and ensure they are connected with help at a much earlier stage.  We also know who is most at risk and are designing improved response pathways, but there is so much more to do to tackle the root causes and ultimately prevent these numbers continuing to grow.


There are a variety of reasons why someone might find themselves at risk of homelessness.  People tell us it is most often because there has been a family or relationship breakdown, with many reasons and long terms issues sitting behind each story, and we do know that the key drivers are  long term poverty,  poor mental health, past trauma that can lead to an inability to cope. We also urgently need more social and affordable housing,  and,  more options around what  a home can and should look like for people, accepting that for an important minority, mainstream housing is not a solution


For the majority of those who find themselves in the homelessness system over time, the journey  is complex and traumatic and rooted in poverty, abuse, hardship and  trauma experienced in their early lives.


When someone is supported to find a new home, their past trauma and experience can make it difficult for them to sustain it and stay safe and they can find themselves facing further experience of homelessness.  And so the cycle continues.


Support, care and treatment is available and it takes many forms, however for some, accessing and making use of that support isn’t straight forward or easy.  Sometimes it is the financial barriers – simply not being able to afford to get to the place where help is available, or having no digital access. In too many cases, it is people’s past experiences and mental health issues which leave them feeling just unable connect or engage with what is on offer and it feels  simpler for them to continue to endure and suffer.


It is hard for most of us to understand and impossible to convey how long it can take for some to find the confidence to connect with support and care and to feel safe enough to move forward. It takes a lot of skill, compassion and tenacity to find that point of connection that can transform lives.  Thankfully, we see it happen regularly. It can look simple but it may well have taken many months, sometimes years of a committed team’s energy to get there.


On the streets, in our hubs, on our helplines, in our emergency and supported accommodation services and through housing first and our own SCS homes, we are doing all we can to provide support, information, care, accommodation and homes.


Support and care  is available. But we need to do more to meet the need.


We would greatly appreciate your support. 


Please keep a note of our website, the addresses of our hubs and our helpline numbers. For you, for someone you might know,  or for someone you might spot in need of help.


And please, if you can, consider doing something to help – donate, fundraise, volunteer, get your company/school/club involved. You’ll help us make a real difference.


Email if you’d like to arrange a chat about how you could help.