Edinburgh’s Homelessness Crisis

Hands holding a cardboard cut out in the shape of a house


In this Article, EaRN volunteer Connor Law looks at the housing and homelessness crisis in Edinburgh

At this time of year, the lives of homeless people across the country are made even harder due to the extreme weather experienced in Scotland during the winter period. That being said, now is arguably the best time to get involved in volunteering projects to lend a hand and help make a difference.

According to the Scottish Government’s statistics regarding homelessness, which have last been updated on the 30th of September 2022, the percentage of homeless applications as well as the number of households being assessed as homeless have both risen by 6% compared to the same period in 2021 (19,066 and 15,414 people respectively). Whereas the percentage of people in temporary accommodation has risen by 1% (14,458, 9,130 of those people being children) and the percentage of open cases has risen by 11% (28,944).

According to the same statistics, the number of homeless applications had exceeded the pre pandemic record. However, the number of households assessed as being homeless while following a similar trend, was slightly lower than the pre pandemic record. The number of households and children was considerably higher as of the 30th of September 2022, than the pre pandemic figures.

According to a report published on the 3rd of October 2023 by Edinburgh’s Housing, Homelessness and Fair Work Committee (which sourced the statistics below from the Scottish Government statutory returns publication), Edinburgh experienced a notable increase in the number of homelessness applications from 1,171 to 1,509 (388, 29%) between 2021 and 2022. However, this follows a decrease of 14% between 2020 and 2021. Figures were still lower than pre-pandemic.

The statistics below highlights that Edinburgh has the highest increase in terms of numbers (662) of homeless applications with a rise of 23%. The number of homeless applications in Edinburgh are slightly lower than pre pandemic (3,506 in 2022/23 compared to 3,567 in 2019/20). 4.3 Nationally, there were 39,006 applications for homelessness assistance, an increase of 3,247 (9%) compared with 2021/22, and higher than pre-pandemic (37,053 in 2019/20).

Statistics also show that Edinburgh had 6,373 open homeless cases on 31 March 2023, the highest of any local authority in Scotland. This is a 17% rise on 2022 (5,452) while nationally the number of open cases has risen by 15% and is higher than it has ever been.

According to the same published date, Edinburgh assessed 3,261 households as homeless or threatened with homelessness in 2022/23. This is the second highest in Scotland behind Glasgow with 5,339.

In addition, Edinburgh has the highest number of households in temporary accommodation as of the 31st of March 2023 (3,560). This was a rise of 7% on the previous year and significantly higher than pre pandemic (2,010 in 2019/20). Nationally there were 15,039 households in temporary accommodation, a rise of 6% on the previous year and the highest number since recording in this way began. 24% of households in temporary accommodation in Scotland are in temporary accommodation in Edinburgh.

When asked why he believes that almost a quarter of people in temporary accommodation in Scotland are housed in Edinburgh, Euan Hamilton, Development Worker for the Equality and Rights Network at Volunteer Edinburgh had this to say.

“It is likely because the housing problem in Edinburgh is more acute than in other parts of Scotland which means there is a longer wait for people to be housed in council or social housing. Often people can be in temporary accommodation for many months and even years which is not a satisfactory situation, especially when children are placed in this type of accommodation.”

When asked during the interview, do you believe that the number of people being assessed as being either homeless or at risk of homelessness is so high in Edinburgh, Mr Hamilton explained that the reason was likely the same as in the previous question.

When asked what he thinks is the reason for such a substantial rise in open homelessness cases in Edinburgh compared to last year, Mr Hamilton responded.

“The housing crisis has become more acute for many reasons, primarily the huge increase in the cost of living and the lack of housing supply in the city. I think Edinburgh remains a very popular place to live which puts even greater strain on property availability.”

When asked his opinion about the rise in homeless applications since last year, Mr Hamilton replied.

“There are probably a number of factors that are contributing to this, including the increased cost of living pushing up property prices, and people struggling to afford these costs when everything else is getting so much more expensive. When this is combined with the chronic housing shortage in Edinburgh, and particularly the lack of affordable housing, it makes for a very difficult situation.”

When asked about his thoughts regarding the potential reason for the number of homeless applications in Edinburgh falling between 2020 and 2021, Mr Hamilton commented.

“The pandemic will certainly have a had a big effect as there were a lot of additional support measures put in place to support people who were homeless. These things were put in place very quickly and it shows that when the political will and resource is there things can be done very quickly.”

When asked what Edinburgh based homeless organisations doing to relieve the these problems which show a rise in almost all aspects of homelessness in Edinburgh, Mr Hamilton had this to say.

“There are lots of amazing organisations in Edinburgh that are doing everything they can to support people experiencing homelessness in many different ways. This includes working with people who are rough sleeping, providing shelter and accommodation, food provision, support for people to get into permanent accommodation and so much more! The breadth of services and the hard work of those specialist organisations is quite incredible.

Finally, when asked if he believes people are more inclined to offer support, either by sparing time or financial aid at this time of the year, Mr Hamilton stated.

“Understandably there can be a greater awareness of these issues during the festive season, and lots of people want to volunteer around this time of year which is great. But we would always encourage people to support these causes year round if they can.”

To find out how you could help by volunteering, please click the link below to the Volunteer Edinburgh opportunities page.