Homeless charity, Shelter Scotland, is preparing to take groundbreaking legal action against Glasgow City Council over its failure to accommodate thousands of homeless people despite Scottish laws requiring local authorities to offer housing.
The charity plans to take action against the council’s “systemic failure” after years of supporting people who have been illegally turned away by the local authority. The council has been accused of breaking the law 3,365 times last year with 3,025 breaches the year before that.
Those who are not accommodated can end up sleeping rough or sofa surfing, often putting themselves in dangerous and exploitative situations. This year several people have been found dead on the city streets, often following drug overdoses.
An HIV epidemic in the city is currently affecting street homeless people who are intravenous drug users.
In winter, many people sleeping in the Glasgow Winter Night Shelter, run by the Glasgow City Mission, first requested help from Glasgow City Council but were only accommodated in bed and breakfasts, hostels and temporary flats after intervention by lawyers from Shelter, Govan Law Centre or the Legal Services Agency.
Thousands of people across the city – told there is no accommodation available or that they aren’t eligible – depend on these lawyers to send a legal letter to remind the council of its duty, at which point the local authority will find them housing.
The council claims that as the local authority housing the most homeless people, it is working hard to turn this around. It says it is leading the way in Scotland with Housing First, an approach with sees street homeless people fast tracked into their own homes, with support provided.
But Shelter claims too many are still turned away and claims “enough is enough”. It has instructed legal firm, Balfour and Mason, to write to Glasgow City Council to advise that it plans to take “strategic legal action” against the city’s Integration Joint Board which has responsibility for homeless services.
In a letter hand-delivered to the council by a delegation of homeless people this morning, the charity calls on the local authority to take urgent action and claims it will seek a judicial review at the Court of Session, if it fails to respond.
Launching a campaign seeking public support for its action, the charity last night lit up buildings in the city – including Glasgow City Council and the BBC – with the words The People vs Glasgow City Council.
Shelter has launched a Crowdfunding campaign to support its work on the issue. It aims to capitalise on the council’s own slogan – People Make Glasgow – to gather support for the most vulnerable in the city.
The threat of judicial review follows repeated engagement by Shelter Scotland with Glasgow City Council over several years to raise concerns about systemic failures within the city’s homelessness services. This culminated in a high-profile protest in July 2018 that led to promises of improvements.
However, the most recent official statistics published last month show that over the last twelve months the situation has deteriorated with people forced back on the streets 3365 times compared to 3025 occasions the previous year.
The facts are clear; Glasgow City Council is breaking the law; homeless people are being forced onto the streets; officials are unable or unwilling to tackle the problem; and the numbers are getting worse not better. Graeme Brown, Shelter Scotland
The charity says Glasgow council can stop the legal action by committing to stop turning people away within 28 days and guarantee never to force them onto the street again.
Graeme Brown, director of Shelter Scotland, said: “Quite simply, enough is enough. The facts are clear. Glasgow City Council is breaking the law, homeless people are being forced onto the streets, officials are unable or unwilling to tackle the problem, and the numbers are getting worse not better.
“This is a Glasgow problem that needs leadership from the top to tackle. When Shelter Scotland supporters protested outside the city chambers last year, we were hopeful that things would get better. Instead the numbers have gone up.
“Rights are not a privilege, they are a legal entitlement enforceable by law and Glasgow council should not be allowed to disregard the law with impunity. If action is not taken to end this practice and public bodies can pick and choose which laws they wish to follow, then it will undermine citizens’ rights across the board.
“I hope that the city council will respond positively to our lawyer’s letter today and avoid the need for court, but there may be little choice. If the judicial review goes ahead then Shelter Scotland will ask the court to declare that Glasgow City Council are acting unlawfully and that they should prepare and submit to Scottish Ministers a revised homelessness strategy that puts a plan in place to guarantee temporary accommodation for every homeless person that needs it.”
Tam Lyon was turned away repeatedly by the council while sleeping on the streets and was part of the delegation that delivered today’s lawyer’s letter to the council.
“I know how difficult it is to get the support you need when you are dealing with homelessness,” he said. “Simple things like where to stay that night become impossible and it is easy to think nobody cares.
“It is a scandal that Glasgow City Council has been able to get away with this for so long, but the harsh reality is that they think nobody will do anything about it.
“That’s why I am asking the people of Glasgow to show their support. Anyone can become homeless because of debt, losing your job or becoming disabled and we all need to know that when we need it most, there is somewhere we can go.”
A Glasgow City Council spokesman said: “As they (Shelter) are well aware, there are significant pressures on our homelessness accommodation service and we are working with the Scottish Housing Regulator and partners in the third and housing sectors to tackle these challenges.
“Rather than raising money for court action – it would be helpful if Shelter worked constructively with us, to tackle the pressing issue of homelessness. We share a common aim and threats of legal action are an unhelpful distraction to this crucial work.”