By Heather Cameron
Last week saw George Clooney launch a campaign to feed the homeless at Christmas by donating the first £5.
When visiting Edinburgh’s branch of Scotland’s not-for-profit sandwich shop, Social Bite, last month, Clooney filmed a video clip on a staff member’s phone in which he pledged the first £5 donation to Social Bite’s £5 Christmas dinner appeal.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Olympic star Sir Chris Hoy, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, comedian Rob Brydon, broadcaster Chris Evans, and Scotland football manager Gordon Strachan have also pledged their support.
Last year’s campaign raised enough money to buy 36,000 meals to feed homeless people in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen for the whole year. Just 24 hours after Clooney’s initial donation, £165,000 was raised with over 33,000 people donating.
How many homeless?
Considering that Scottish local authorities logged 35,764 statutory homelessness assessments in 2014/15, of which 28,615 were assessed as ‘legally homeless’, this figure is impressive.
Nevertheless, the actual number of homeless people is likely to be far greater.
The latest data for Scotland suggests that 50,000 adults experience homelessness each year.
Shelter has estimated that 109,000 children in Britain will be homeless this Christmas, with nearly 5,000 of them in Scotland. According to the Scottish arm of charity, this is a 15% increase on last year’s figure, which:
“is simply not good enough and a badge of shame for such a relatively wealthy country”…The increased number of homeless children indicates a growing bottleneck of families stuck in temporary accommodation due to the major shortage of affordable housing across Scotland.”
Government figures show that the number of people in temporary accommodation has grown over the past five years despite more than £1bn being spent on homelessness since 2010.
And these figures don’t include the hidden homeless that evade official statistics. According to Crisis, “official homelessness figures are masking the true scale of the problem”.
People living in overcrowded accommodation, shared accommodation, young single people and those in ‘concealed households’ (including groups/families/single people who are unable to form separate households and forced to live with others) can all be hidden from the system. And as local authorities only have to accommodate ‘statutory’ homeless people, these people are often hidden from support and advice as well as statistics.
As Social Bite’s Christmas dinner campaign shows though, good work is being done. Many homeless charities work tirelessly across the UK to provide services for people at Christmas time and indeed throughout the year.
The Salvation Army provides support and friendship to the homeless and other vulnerable people and its Christmas appeal for donations of time, money and gifts has seen much success over the years.
Crisis runs their Crisis at Christmas event across the country providing hot meals, fun activities, entertainment, health care and advice for the homeless. This year they have Christmas centres in Birmingham, Coventry, Edinburgh, London and Newcastle.
A new community initiative led by students at Darlington College aims to give homeless people in the town a Christmas lunch at the college, a cooking demonstration and festive meal at a local restaurant.
And as well as providing dinners for homeless people in Scotland, Social Bite will also be using donations to provide food and clothing packs for refugees in camps in Calais, the Serbia/Croatia border, and Lesbos.
With the sheer scale and complexity of the issue, of course it won’t be possible for such initiatives to reach every homeless person. And with the combination of cuts to welfare and a severe lack of affordable housing across the UK, many more families are likely to face a fight to keep roofs over their heads.
So while we settle down to enjoy the festive period with our nearest and dearest, perhaps we should all spare a thought for those who simply seek the gift of shelter.
Further reading: if you liked this blog post, you might also want to read our previous blog on Britain’s hidden homeless.
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