Call for action to tackle ‘outdated’ public perceptions of homelessness

Work being done to tackle homelessness is being undermined by “outdated attitudes” from the public, charity campaigners have said.

Homeless Action Scotland claimed that while most people are sympathetic to the plight of those without a home of their own, they see the problem as being caused by individual choices, rather than wider problems such as poverty.

The group now wants ministers to act in a bid to change perceptions, in the same way that the See Me campaign set out to reduce stigma regarding mental ill health.

Charity chief executive Gavin Yates: “The Scottish Social Attitudes Study in 2006 found that 45% of respondents agreed with the statement ‘Most homeless people could find somewhere to live if they really tried’.

“Whilst I think some progress has been made most people still think that homelessness is a result of bad choices rather than the real causes which often include poverty and neglect.”

Mr Yates, speaking ahead of the National Homeless Conference in Edinburgh, added: “Whilst elements of the body politic believe that homelessness is an inevitability then things won’t change.

“The excellent work being done in Scotland by Government, local councils and voluntary sector agencies is in danger of being undermined by outdated attitudes. This needs to change.

“The See Me campaign in Scotland was instrumental in changing attitudes to mental health and people are now more open about talking about their experiences and fears.

“We need to get the public to understand that homelessness in all of its forms is not a result of bad choices or, most-times, bad luck – it is a direct consequence of social policy.”

He continued: “It is clear that to end homelessness we need investment in new homes, a humane benefits system, a health system focused on prevention and an education system geared to success for all. For that to happen the public need to insist on it.

“The Scottish Government’s Ending Homeless Plan is a bold step in the fight to end homelessness and has a significant section on public perceptions.

“My message is there’s no time like the present to actually kick this campaign off.”

Housing Minister Kevin Stewart agreed it was “imperative we shift the national conversation to address the stigma of homelessness by highlighting the true root causes, such as poverty”.

And he said the Government had “started developing a strategic approach to changing public perceptions around homelessness”.

Mr Stewart said: “This will help support a change in public perceptions, away from stigmatising people, and it will ensure we all focus on finding and implementing solutions that really work.

“Our aim is to help individuals secure a settled home, and make the changes that will stop homelessness from happening in the first place.

“Following the publication of our Ending Homelessness Together Action Plan in November, we have already started developing a strategic approach to changing public perceptions around homelessness.

“This is one of a comprehensive set of actions we have committed to in partnership with local government and others.”

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