Homelessness pledge must not be forgotten because of economy, charity says

COUNCILS have been warned they must not shirk from meeting an "historic" commitment to end homelessness, despite tough economic times.
Housing campaigners Shelter Scotland said some local authorities still had work to do to achieve this by the end of 2012.
But the charity stressed the commitment was a legal requirement and meeting it was "not a choice".
Head of communications and policy Gordon MacRae said: "We know times are tough and local authorities are under increasing pressure, but meeting the 2012 commitment is not a choice, it's a legislative requirement that cannot be shirked from.
"It marks a new beginning for Scotland's homelessness services where we hope all local authorities will strive to deliver the best possible service to homeless people in their communities."
Legislation passed by Holyrood in 2003 will bring an end to the current system where only those homeless people classed as being in "priority need" and have the right to a home.
That means by the end of 2012 this right will be extended to single homeless people and couples without children.
Councils have been working towards achieving the commitment, and with the deadline approaching Shelter Scotland is organising a major conference to help them.
The event in Edinburgh in February will hear from White House policy adviser on homelessness Professor Dennis Culhane and Scotland's Housing Minister Keith Brown.
Mr MacRae said the conference was "designed to help Scotland accelerate over the finishing line" and meet the "historic milestone".
He stated: "With exactly one year to go we are encouraged that many local authorities have shown dedication to meeting the 2012 homelessness commitment and that some are in fact already there.
"There are other local authorities across Scotland with more work to do, but it is by no means too late."
However a charity that helps homeless people warned providing somewhere for people to live was only part of the solution.
Keith Robertson, director of the Edinburgh-based resettlement charity Fresh Start, stressed the need to support people once they are in a home.
He said: "Scotland's world leading legislation to see everyone who is unintentionally homeless given housing by December 2012 is just part of the solution to eradicating homelessness.
"Providing a roof over a family or an individual's head is the first step, but making sure they keep it is the next challenge."
He added: "Scotland must ensure that as well as providing a roof over someone's head we're providing the necessary support, both practical and emotional, to help families and people get back on their feet."
Fresh Start volunteers help people who have been homeless by providing them with starter packs of basic household items once they have accommodation, with others forming "hit squads" to help decorate properties.
Mr Robertson said these could "help combat the isolation felt by those who have been homeless".
He added: "We also help provide employment opportunities. For some people, without these things, homelessness can become a recurring problem."
Mr Brown said: "Scotland has an important but challenging homelessness target: that by the end of December 2012, all unintentionally homeless households will have the right to settled accommodation."
The minister added councils were "working hard" to achieve this and were "enthusiastically embracing prevention as the way forward in the fight to tackle homelessness".
Mr Brown continued: "For example, the vast majority are involved in regional hubs that examine individuals' housing options in the widest sense. This is backed by around £500,000 from the Scottish Government to cover staff training, service development and improve partnership working.
"In North Ayrshire, since 2003, there has been a 57.5% reduction in homelessness due to it adopting this approach. As an example, of 436 private sector households threatened with homelessness during that period, none went on to present as homeless."