By Kezia Dugdale MSP
*This article first appeared in the Edinburgh Evening News on 04/12/18*
Have you put your Christmas tree up yet, or sent the children’s gift list to Santa?
What about ordering the turkey, or stockpiling the Baileys?
For most families in the city, the festive season is full of joy: excited kids; toasty living rooms; a few too many at the work party.
But what if you don’t have a Christmas tree because you don’t have a home to call your own?
And you can’t send a gift list to Santa because you know there will be no presents for your children this year.
And Christmas Day dinner won’t be a feast, but the same rations you put in a microwave in your hostel each week?
Homelessness is a blight on our society all-year round, but it’s particularly heart-breaking at this time of year.
More than 14,000 children were in households assessed as homeless in 2017/18. Over half of all applications were due to relationship breakdown or being asked to leave.
As a result, thousands of families, often single parents with young children, find themselves in temporary accommodation – bed-and-breakfasts and hostels.
Last week, in parliament, I told MSPs about the real experience of one man here in Edinburgh.
He first came to my constituency surgery back in April. He was living in temporary accommodation with his baby and had been living there for two months. He is a recovering addict who has been clean for nine years, and he has custody of his child because the child’s mother still has addictions.
He came to see me because there had been no hot water for three days and the single microwave oven that he shared with the 89 other residents in the hostel was broken.
His room was filthy and his bed was riddled with bed bugs. When my office checked with him last week to ask whether it was OK for me to share his experiences with MSPs, he asked me to tell them that he had slept in ‘crack and heroin dens that were cleaner than the hostels and B&Bs in this city’.
This is the reality faced by scores of our fellow residents in our city this Christmas.
There will be children waking up on Christmas morning in a cold, damp hostel toom, with no presents to open and no food to eat.
How can this be happening in 21st century Scotland?
In the past year, 600 families have been in temporary hostels or B&B accommodation in Edinburgh – 466 of them for more than a week.
Councils can place people in temporary accommodation if there is nothing else that is suitable, and under current Scottish Government plans it will be 2023 before we get better standards for temporary accommodation in the city.
I could write those standards now: a clean room, a kettle in the room and access to kitchen facilities for six people or fewer. Why does it have to take five years to produce a set of minimum standards for such people?
My constituent now lives in a flat in Lochend – a private-rented sector flat that he can barely afford.
Last week, the Evening News highlighted how private rents have soared in the capital.
One and two-bedroom properties are up by around 40 per cent since 2010.
These rents are rocketing because there is a housing shortage. Landlords realise they can make more money by letting their properties to tourists on Airbnb, and we aren’t building anywhere near enough new homes for social rent.
That costs money. And every time the SNP Government cuts council budgets it makes the situation worse, while the Tories’ Universal Credit roll-out will compound the problems that already exist on the ground.
Here’s what I want from Santa this year: for everyone in government – north and south of the Border – to get serious about the scandal of homelessness.