Sunday was our annual buy a tree too big for the car day. Every year we do the same thing and every year we learn nothing.
The thing about geometry is that it’s pretty consistent. If the tree doesn’t fit comfortably in the car, it’s not going to comfortably fit in the house. So the annual shifting of the furniture followed.
It’s early, I know, but life is for living. Let’s max out the Christmas cheer and if we end up with dried up pine needles in the Christmas pud so be it.
I always find myself assessing my lot when we decorate the tree and feel so unbelievably thankful for it.
I’m acutely aware of how lucky I am to have a roof over my head, a very comfortable living and a secure job. I’m also acutely aware of how many people won’t have that this Christmas.
I must have met and tried to help a couple of thousand people in my time as an MSP. But a few really stand out and I think about them often, especially at this time of year.
One was a giant of a man who came to my drop-in surgery in a local community centre a few years ago.
He had a closely shaven head and was covered in tattoos.
To be honest, I made some fast and pretty inaccurate judgements. It’s human nature, it plagues us all.
Homelessness: one family’s story
He was living in a hostel in town and had been for a couple of months, with an 18-month-old baby.
He knew the housing list was long and was pretty sanguine about his wait. All he wanted was my help to get the microwave fixed in the hostel.
You see, the kitchen facilities were shared and more than 50 folk had access to the same space.
If the microwave wasn’t working, he couldn’t heat his daughter’s milk.
Forty two thousand of our fellow citizens have no safe, permanent place to live. A community of people the size of Stirling
I couldn’t sleep that night as his fate played on my conscience.
How could it possibly be the case that a man with an 18-month-old baby could be stuck in temporary accommodation for two months. Even on its best day, that’s no place for child.
I worked with him for several weeks and soon he had his own flat. But he also ended up coming into the Parliament with me and sitting down with the then Housing Minister to share his own experience in the hope it wouldn’t happen to anyone else.
But it did and it still does.
And his was not an isolated case
What was so shocking about his case in the end was just how common it was.
Last time the statistics were published, 7,000 children were living in temporary accommodation across Scotland.
Forty two thousand of our fellow citizens have no safe, permanent place to live. A community of people the size of Stirling.
The law says no one should be in unsuitable accommodation for more than seven days.
It’s been that way for years for families with children but it was extended to everyone in 2019.
Yet the average amount of time a household spends in temporary accommodation is 199 days and rising.
— Shelter Scotland (@shelterscotland) November 29, 2021
Can you imagine living in a B&B or a hostel for six months?
Getting kicked out every morning no matter the weather and not allowed to return until nightfall?
Now imagine it with a child.
Do it again, only in winter.
That aching, scandalous, unforgivable gap between what the law says should happen and what actually happens is an increasingly depressing theme across Scotland.
We pass legislation in the Parliament and declare it the most progressive and ambitious in the world, then just whistle when the targets are repeatedly missed.
Reality doesn’t match the law on homelessness
In 2003 we passed a law saying everyone would have the right to a home by 2012.
Next year will mark 10 years since that commitment was supposed to be met and we’re still miles off.
More than 130,000 people are on social housing waiting lists right now.
When Shelter Scotland say we’re facing a housing emergency, it’s not hyperbole, it’s a crushing fact.
That gap between what should happen and what is happening is structural in every sense of the word when it comes to housing.
We’re just not building nearly enough houses for social rent.
We know that, but I’m not convinced this Parliament plans on doing much about it.
We don’t even have a Housing Minister any more.
Sure the words housing and homelessness are listed in Shona Robison’s Cabinet Secretary job description, but so are no less than 16 other responsibilities.
Voices of tenants will be at heart of plan for rented housing sector, says Patrick Harvie. https://t.co/VtELllgAJv
— STV News (@STVNews) September 3, 2021
The Green MSP Patrick Harvie is now the Minister for Tenants Rights but that’s a very different ball game from house building.
Even in the Parliamentary committee system housing sits with one committee and homelessness sits in another, as if there’s no link.
Will it get twice the attention or none at all?
Given how integral a warm, safe and secure house is to our health, happiness and wellbeing, you’d think resolving this crisis would be higher on the list.
It will certainly be my first ask and only ask of Santa this Christmas.
Kezia Dugdale is Director of the John Smith Centre, promoting trust in politics and pubic service.