'It's like getting in a time machine': homeless agencies warn of rise in rough sleeping 4

‘It’s like getting in a time machine’: homeless agencies warn of rise in rough sleeping

Rough sleeping in Scotland’s largest city has escalated dramatically in recent weeks following a decision by Glasgow City Council to cut homeless accommodation to reduce spending.

One legal firm supporting homeless people said the situation felt like “getting in a time machine” and returning to the “dark old days” when rough sleeping was endemic across the city. They warned that the “bleak” situation was likely to get worse.

In most of the UK emergency accommodation is provided only to those judged to need it most. But under Scottish housing law, passed in 2012 and widely heralded as groundbreaking, anyone who is not found to be “intentionally” homeless is entitled to be accommodated. 

Local authorities often breached the law but during Covid-19 additional money was provided by the Scottish Government meant everyone on the streets was accommodated and rough sleeping in Glasgow declined to virtually zero.

Sources told The Ferret that in recent weeks charities were again handing out sleeping bags, particularly to single men, including to those who had not been accommodated by local authority homeless services. In some cases this was said to be due to them being evicted from the Rennie Mackintosh homeless hotel due to “behavioural issues”.

The city centre hotel – which has been used to house homeless people for many years – is being decommissioned as part of cuts to services planned by Glasgow City Council. The Ferret understands that will mean 78 fewer emergency accommodation beds will be available.

One source suggested the evictions were part of a “clearing out” ahead of the decommissioning process. This was denied by the council which said it was not responsible for the decisions of other accommodation providers.

A spokesperson for the Rennie Mackintosh said cancellations were made by “the booking agencies” and referred The Ferret back to the council.

Homeless hotels

Campaigners have long raised concerns about the hotel and other similar ones, in which there have been over 50 drug related deaths in the last three years. 

Five deaths – two in the Rennie Mackintosh and three in the Queens Park Hotel – were reported in May with concerns again raised about the lack of staff trained to deal with people in crisis as well as the accommodation standards. Activists called for more supportive, alternative accommodation to be provided.

However the council said that its financial situation was the driving force behind the decision for the closure with savings of £3.6m expected over nine months.

In a Glasgow City Joint Integrated Board paper dated 28 June it admitted that, given the “level of demand for emergency accommodation”, there was “a risk that Glasgow Homelessness Services will breach statutory duties”. It also warned of “an increased likelihood of rough sleeping and hardship for service users”.

In response to queries a council spokeswoman told The Ferret it was aware of six people who were sleeping rough and claimed most had refused help. 

But Wendy Malloy, project manager of homeless services at Govan Law Centre, said the public law firm had been dealing with several cases in which people had been refused accommodation, including men who had been told they had “no local connection to Glasgow”. Shelter Scotland is also understood to be dealing with cases.

Govan Law is currently appealing these decisions but said some people were left without accommodation while these were processed. 

Glasgow City Council denied it had changed its “local connection” policy and confirmed that since the law changed in November 2022 it was responsible for providing people with accommodation from all local authorities in Scotland, not just those from Glasgow.

It’s an absolute regression to the dark old days of rough sleeping in the city. It’s like we’ve got into a time machine. It’s a bleak picture and we are really concerned about it.

Wendy Malloy, Govan Law Centre,

But Malloy said: “We’ve taken calls from workers and people are in a tailspin. We’ve had a spate of decisions made by the council on the cases of people who have been accommodated for months told it’s been decided that they have no local connection which means it is discharging its duty to accommodate them.

“We have also heard that people have been put out of accommodation due to ‘behaviour issues’ and not provided with any alternative and again we’ve had to go back and escalate those cases.”

She claimed the law centre regularly sees evictions for rule breaking. As well as banning smoking, alcohol and drug use, hostels operate strict curfews and residents are not allowed to enter other rooms, or even knock on doors. In at least one Glasgow hotel guests are warned this could result in eviction.

But Malloy claimed rules in recent weeks seemed to be more strictly enforced. “There are things that may have been tolerated in the past and now the policy leaves an open door for housing officers to decide who gets accommodation and who does not,” she added. 

“It’s an absolute regression to the dark old days of rough sleeping in the city. It’s like we’ve got into a time machine. It’s a bleak picture and we are really concerned about it. The next step for us is to get back out to all the services to make sure we have a presence and that people know they can access their rights.”

Lorraine McGrath, chief executive of the Simon Community Scotland said that its street teams had noticed an increase in people sleeping rough in both Glasgow and Edinburgh “in the last few weeks”.

Reports of rough sleeping have also increased across the UK.

McGrath added: “Everyone is working to understand what has caused this reasonably sudden change, having held numbers low for over three years.

“There are undeniable system pressures and we are seeing issues with the increasingly punitive immigration laws preventing councils from offering help.  Many others are caught up in a cycle of trauma, addiction, and chaos that stops them from being able to accept the help and accommodation on offer. 

“The teams never give up and we are preventing at least 70 people every week from having to sleep on the streets of our cities. That takes a lot of collaboration and a lot of time, energy, and money.”

A Glasgow City Council spokesperson said: “We receive weekly updates on all matters regarding rough sleeping from Simon Community who are commissioned on our behalf to provide this service.

“We know of six people rough sleeping who have full entitlement to homelessness assistance which is a slight increase from a static number of four rough sleepers within Glasgow City. Most of them are declining the offer of support but we continue to engage with them ensuring offers of accommodation and support are made available wherever possible.

“In terms of evictions, this is a matter for accommodation providers although we can confirm that there is no change to any policy or approach which would influence these decisions.  

“Also, there has been no amendment to our practices in relation to decision making regarding local connection and the provision of emergency accommodation, however we remain focused on reviewing our response to all homelessness demand.”

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said: “Scotland has some of the strongest homelessness legislation in the world and local authorities have a legal duty to provide accommodation to anyone at risk of homelessness. The Scottish Government is in regular contact with both local authorities and frontline outreach teams to monitor the number of people sleeping rough and to respond to pressures.”

A spokesperson for the Rennie Mackintosh hotel said: “All accommodation is reserved and cancelled via our reservations system by the booking agencies,” and advised queries should be advised to authorities.

Photo credit: iStock/Lucia Gajdosikova

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