Today is World Homeless Day, providing an important chance for us all to consider the impact of our homes on our health, and how we would feel if we didn’t have this place of physical and emotional security. It’s no coincidence that today is also World Mental Health Day, reflecting how mental health challenges can all too often be a cause or result of homelessness.
Sadly, with the cost-of-living crisis, the issue of homelessness is on the rise. At Simon Community Scotland, we are very aware of this as the country’s largest provider of homeless services. As well as being on the front line, with street teams and community hubs, Simon Community has launched an innovative yet obvious solution to provide a permanent home. Named ‘SCS Homes’, we own and lease flats to people who are ready to live independently after sustained support from Simon Community Scotland, acting as a springboard for their next steps.
To achieve SCS Homes, I’ve undertaken the task of acquiring 30 flats in Edinburgh in a mere 18 months. The flats I’m purchasing are permanent homes for people who need them, as one of Simon Community’s core beliefs is that everyone should have access to a safe place, regardless of their circumstances. Residents at SCS Homes have a secure tenancy and a home for as long as they need it, whilst still having a Simon Community support system to call on. The homes are also an asset for the charity, as tenants pay an affordable rent which is reinvested into essential services.
Thanks to secured funding we have a budget of around £155,000 per property, plus a small sum for essential renovations. The cooling of the property market has worked in our favour, and we are making good progress on reaching the 30 homes target, with only a handful of properties left to purchase.
My biggest learning? Act swiftly. We put in place an expedited approval process with our Board, helping to secure the right properties by making a speedy acceptable offer. After viewing too many traditional Edinburgh tenements with communal areas in disrepair, I’ve learnt to focus on flats with professional property management. Each property I’ve selected meets a personal criterion – would I want my children living there? And the answer is a firm yes for all the SCS Homes I’ve purchased.
Unfortunately, there seems no end in sight to the spiralling levels of homelessness and Simon Community Scotland’s support team are stretched to the limit. The charity has today issued a warning about the situation and launched an emergency appeal, ‘A Safe Place’. This will fund everything from a set of pyjamas or a warm jacket, to helping provide someone’s first permanent safe place.
It’s been immensely rewarding to see how a permanent home does indeed bring safety and security. One of our first SCS Homes residents was a young woman who Simon Community Scotland had initially supported on the streets of Edinburgh two years ago. As a result of ongoing support and a permanent home, her physical and mental health has significantly improved and she’s back on her feet. It’s often the small things that matter the most to people – like furnishing their home or picking a paint colour, as well as enjoying the peace and quiet after so long spent in temporary or shared accommodation.
Looking to the future, I hope we can roll out SCS Homes all over Scotland, investing in property to give more people a stable future.
Dan Donald, Simon Community Scotland