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New Church of Scotland chief says governments must tackle homelessness ‘obscenity’

Moderator-Designate of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland  Rev Dr Russell Barr, during a visit to the Fresh Start Initiative.
Moderator-Designate of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland Rev Dr Russell Barr, during a visit to the Fresh Start Initiative.

The level of homelessness in Scotland is an “obscenity” which the Scottish and UK governments must to do more to tackle, a church leader has said.

The incoming Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland the Rev Dr Russell Barr said the number of people without somewhere safe to live was a “damning indictment” on modern society.

Statistics from housing and homelessness charity Shelter Scotland show 35,764 homeless applications were made to local authorities in 2014-15.

Dr Barr, who founded Edinburgh-based charity Fresh Start, which helps people who have been homeless to make a home for themselves, said the Scottish Government must deliver on promises to build at least 50,000 more affordable homes over the next five years.

He said: “Homelessness is a damning indictment on modern society. It is a disgrace and should not happen in the UK, which is the fifth richest economy in the world.

“We worry about health and education, and one of the best ways to improve standards is to ensure that people are properly and safely accommodated.

COURIER, DOUGIE NICOLSON, 16/07/13, NEWS. Pic shows a homeless person begging in the Murraygate in Dundee today, Tuesday 16th July 2013.
The incoming moderator wants more to be done to help homeless people.

“Tackling the obscenity of homelessness must be a key priority for the Scottish and UK governments because if you believe in a progressive, modern Scotland you must make sure that people are properly housed.

“The government in Scotland must keep its promises and deliver on pledges to build more affordable homes.”

Dr Barr, who has been minister of Cramond Kirk in Edinburgh since 1993, was inspired to set up Fresh Start in 1999 after meeting a homeless man called Sam who had been allocated a flat but could not afford to buy cutlery, crockery, pots and pans or bed linen.

The 62-year-old said: “Meeting this chap was a lightbulb moment and I realised we had to do something really practical.

“He needed help to turn that flat into a home because what he had in the street beside him was all that he had in the world.”

The ecumenical charity also provides food and offers cookery classes and lessons on budgeting and growing fruit and vegetables.

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