Charity calls on Council to end abuse of homeless human rights


by Jolene Cargill, Social Affairs Editor

A homeless support project is calling on the City of Edinburgh Council put an end to discrimination against homeless people placed in Bed & Breakfast accommodation.

The Grassmarket Community Project (GCP) have branded the practices in B&B’s as appalling and an infringement on the human rights of those placed in temporary accommodation by the council’s homeless unit.

In a letter being submitted to the media this week they are calling for the creation of a policy governing the management of B&B accommodation. Following research into the experiences of homeless people placed in B&B’s in the capital the GCP found a lack of transparency and no criteria on practices they say are against the human rights of homeless people.

GCP says homeless individuals living in bed and breakfast accommodation within the city of Edinburgh have reported a number of practices that amount to clear infringements and restrictions of their human rights.

The Project, which provides drop in services and a range of activities for homeless people, has expressed their concerns about the practices in B&B’s which include a curfew of 11pm and a ban on interacting with other homeless people.

Green Councillor Alison Johnstone has agreed to raise the issue at the next full council meeting.  The charity has also consulted Lesley McAra, Chair of the Law Faculty, and is inviting other homeless organisations and politicians to lend their support including Streetwork, Cyrenians, Sarah Boyack MSP and Sheila Gilmore MP.

Their letter to the media will state: “We call upon the City of Edinburgh Council to create a policy which ensures that individuals’ human rights are maintained, and that transparent criteria are developed to actively promote social inclusion without discrimination.

“We ask for an end to arbitrary and discriminatory practices so that people are accorded their rights to freedom of movement and association, as well as respect for their privacy and possessions. We request democratic clarity in the decision-making process and the personnel structure that affect individuals in these circumstances.”

Manager Josiah Lockhart said: “B&B accommodation is supposed to be a stop gap but there is now a whole industry built up around it with no clear guidance when it comes to homeless people. Eestablishments are left to make arbitrary decisions and can treat people with a total lack of understanding.”

“The focus seems to be entirely on money with no regard for people’s rights. Imagine the humiliation of having to ask if you can stay out only to be told no? It’s absurd that someone who has to go to hospital or go to a family event can’t arrange to stay out later or overnight. Regardless of the circumstances people have to report as homeless again the next day and go through the system again.”

Bobby Norris, a volunteer at the GCP, has been homeless for eight months following the breakdown of a relationship. He has stayed in four different B&B units while he continues to bid for three properties every week through the City’s Choice Based Letting scheme.

He has silver priority status due to health complications including angina, high blood pressure and diabetes as well as a hand injury that left him unable to work.

“I feel so frustrated. Last week it was my sister’s 40th birthday and I asked if I could stay out but was told no. They treat you like a teenager. I have had belongings stolen. And we are not allowed to talk to other people in the B&B unless it’s over breakfast. But the housing officers don’t seem to care. As long as we are not sleeping on the streets they can tick their boxes and say the job is done. If it wasn’t for the GMP I would be totally lost.”

A housing officer at the council has advised the organisation that there is no council policy in place to govern the management of such accommodation. Meanwhile, a spokesman for City of Edinburgh Council told Newsnet:

“We follow The Scottish Government Homeless Person’s (Unsuitable Accommodation) (Scotland) Order 2004. It’s recommended that no families or pregnant women are housed in B&B accommodation. The vast majority of people in B&B accommodation in Edinburgh are single or couples.”

From April 2010 to March 2011 the City of Edinburgh Council placed 2,428 households in B&B accommodation. There were 3,941 people on council waiting lists in March 2010 but only 439 new lets available. It’s estimated that it would take nine years to clear the current waiting list.

There are 250,000 households on Scotland’s council waiting lists and housing association waiting lists and the number of households accepted as homeless or potentially homeless is rising.

A recent report by Shelter showed there has been a 160 per cent increase in the number of people in temporary accommodation since 2002, a rise from 4,153 to 10,815, as councils try to hit the 2012 target to abolish ‘priority’ need.