IT’S been over six hours since anyone here at Glasgow City Council’s North West homeless service spoke to James Connelly (below), and as the endless seconds, minutes and hours tick past his anxiety is rising. It’s gone 2pm on Friday and his heart is starting to hammer in his chest.

He is homeless and this is the second day in a row he’s spent here to see if there will be any accommodation for him tonight. For 29 years he worked as a builder and lost his job last December after three heart attacks. He split from his partner in traumatic circumstances and found himself, aged 53, without anywhere to call home.

He was in a hostel for a while but for months now he has been existing between sofas, his sister’s, the streets – washing in the toilets at Central Station or at the swimming baths, making sure he doesn’t let himself go. He doesn’t have addiction issues, couldn’t bring himself to beg.

Along the way he claims he’s been to this bleak-looking brick building in Possilpark multiple times – and though he should be entitled under Scottish Housing Law to be accommodated by the local authority – has not been given anywhere to stay. It was here someone in the same boat told him about Simon Community Scotland, the charity which provides the city’s Rough Sleeper and Vulnerable Person (RSVP) service.

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So now street team worker Elaine Barrett is sat beside him on a plastic chair in this blank-as-the-walls room, where there is not as much as a coffee machine or a magazine. If you get thirsty, you can ask the receptionist to give you a cup to fill with water from the sink in the toilets.

Barrett sat here from 9am-4pm with him yesterday too before being told there was no accommodation available. There was nothing either at the out-of-hours service run from Glasgow City Mission, where they were sent next.

In the end she used a small emergency budget provided by the Scottish Government following its task force recommendation last year, to pay for a hotel. “I feel better after a comfy bed, a shower, a breakfast,” Connelly says. “Otherwise I’d have been on the street again.”

But as the time ticks on, a bead of sweat is appearing on his brow. If there’s nothing today, there are three long nights before this service re-opens and he has nowhere to go. “I’ve got mental health issues,” he says. “Some days I feel like walking in front of a car. I’m just lost.”

Scottish homeless legislation is amongst the best in the world – all 32 councils have a duty to accommodate those who are homeless. Yet problems meeting that are widespread, and in Glasgow Connelly’s situation is not rare.

Last year, according to Glasgow City Council’s own figures it failed to offer accommodation 3365 times, the equivalent of nine times a day. In 2017 it was 3025.

On average members of Barrett’s team spend four hours a day sitting in one of the three Glasgow homeless services in Possil, Easterhouse and Govan, helping advocate for their rights.

When that doesn’t work, homeless lawyers across the city from Legal Services Agency (LSA), Govan Law Centre (GLC) and Shelter Scotland step in, sending out letters on a daily basis reminding the council of its duty and threatening legal action if it is not met.

Often accommodation that wasn’t previously available appears within hours of those letters. Sometimes it takes two or more before it’s forthcoming. But GCC has never yet ended up in the dock.

That is, until now. On Monday Shelter Scotland declared “enough is enough” and a delegation of homeless people delivered a letter to Glasgow City Council on the charity’s behalf, giving them 28 days to get its housing in order.

If it does not, the charity will instruct lawyers Balfour and Manson to take a case to the Court of Session, for the first time based not on individual, but systemic failings.

READ MORE: Glasgow cuts homeless cash by £2.6 million as part of new plan

It’s a ground-breaking approach, and while not everyone agrees it’s the best way to secure change, it’s expected to make waves.

At the charity’s drop-in at its central Glasgow office caseworkers have yet to see the impact – they assisted eight people turned away from Glasgow services last week.

They include a man with deep vein thrombosis and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) who had been sleeping rough before ending up in hospital, who was told there was nothing available.

When he presented to Shelter the next morning, accommodation was found following a letter from the team here.

In another particularly horrific and complicated case they’ve been helping a mother with a seven-year-old child, who spent the weekend sleeping in her car after fleeing domestic violence.

FOR Stephen Wishart, a member of Shetlter’s Glasgow Hub advice team, concern is for those who aren’t accessing legal advice from here, or LSA or Govan or Castlemilk Law Centres. “You shouldn’t need our help just to get what is your right by law,” he says. “This shouldn’t be about who’s got the biggest da.” Some workers here have concerns about homeless service staff. Some are good, they say. Others are uncommunicative and judgemental.

They don’t seem to want to help, don’t return calls or emails. They say systemic change can’t come soon enough.

Glasgow City Council tells another story. “It’s not a secret that we’ve had serious issues with our homeless services but there has been a huge amount of work done over the past few years, all put together in our Rapid Housing plans,” insists Councillor Mhairi Hunter, the council’s spokeswoman on the issue.

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It aims to reduce the time people spend in temporary accommodation to 50%; no longer than 17 weeks is the target. The Glasgow Alliance – a coalition of charities working with the local authority – is poised to re-commission homeless services, and a new city-centre hub, where people will be able to access all the services they need.

“We want to get to a place where there is no wrong door, that you can access help wherever you enter it,” says Hunter. “What we need to get away from is the situation where we are saying you need to go to a centre that’s miles away and you need to sit there for hours and if you don’t get seen in time you need to go somewhere else. People [should] get picked up quickly and get the help they need quickly. We have a lot of work to do to get there. But that is what you are aiming for.”

She is angry with Shelter for misusing homeless death figures in its letter to the council – they claimed 47 people died on the street, in fact though some were street homeless, most died in hostels, shabby B&Bs and other temporary homeless accommodation.

And she’s feels it’s unfair that Glasgow is being taken to task for its high number of breaches, claiming that its numbers only account for 95% of Scotland-wide cases because it counts every night it does not accommodate, unlike other local authorities.

“I understand Shelter see themselves as advocates for homeless people, and they don’t see it as their job to help us,” she says. “But they have been invited on to various forums and they just don’t ... they engage in a much more aggressive way. I don’t know why.”

SHELTER’S national service manager Gillian Reid raises an eyebrow at the suggestion it doesn’t engage, listing off meetings and attempts to find ways forward. She searches her inbox for correspondence with the council’s head of adult services, who has been routinely cc-ed into emailed letters sent to homeless casework teams since May, showing me concerns were escalated 25 times between May 15 and June 27.

Some other organisations are puzzled by this defensive attitude too. Hugh Hill, Simon Community Scotland’s head of operations, says: “It’s really difficult to get people accommodated in this city. Who wouldn’t want to ensure the most vulnerable in the city exercised their rights?”

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But Hunter says calls for more temporary accommodation miss the point. It’s not more beds, the city needs, she argues, but work to move people through the system faster – and it’s working on it.

Scotland-wide Housing First approach is rolling out too but progress is slow – only 38 people were in those properties by the end of July according to Glasgow Homeless Network’s tracker, most re-accommodated by decommissioned services.

Others are joining them from a raft of supported services, due to close by October as part of a £2.6 million cut to the homeless services budget. Many in the sector say those cuts will be disastrous, particularly when you take into account the record number of drug deaths recently affecting the homeless community, along with an HIV epidemic on the streets of Glasgow. What’s more, up to 300 asylum seekers are due to be made homeless by accommodation provider Serco by next month.

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But Hunter claims concerns about cuts are misplaced. “Decommissioning those services is not really taking away places from the system – there were people stuck in them,” she says.

The Scottish Government has agreed to lead a voluntary review “to identify and drive forward solutions on failure to accommodate”.

Hunter added: “If we’re satisfied that someone is safe and warm and accommodated, we know if we offer a hostel or a bed and breakfast they will say: ‘I am fine where I am.’ According to the law we should offer accommodation at that point, but all we can offer is something they don’t want to accept.”

AROUND the table at Govan Law Centre, which this week has helped four people turned away from Glasgow City Council, the idea that those they work with happily leave homeless services “safe, warm and accommodated” is staggering far from their reality.

Case worker Brian Roberts says he regularly works with people told there is no accommodation who end up sleeping rough.

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Wendy Malloy, who helped a woman who was sofa surfing get a temporary flat last week agrees the rapid rehousing plan is good on paper but says the council is “far removed” from meeting it.

“The problem isn’t with the people who are homeless,” adds project manager Alastair Sharp. “It’s with the people administering homeless services.”

Often, claims partner Lorna Walker, a homeless application is not even taken when people present for help. “People are told you’re not homeless because you’re not roofless, or ‘could you just stay in with your mum tonight’ or ‘we’ve only got a hostel, do you think you could cope with it?’. And none of that should stop people from taking a homeless application,” she says. [Hunter, on hearing this later, says organisations should escalate such cases to her office.]

Walker may be unsure of how much impact Shelter’s new approach may actually have (“We already have well written legislation and good policies. The problem is the practice”) but her concerns about the problems seem exactly the same. “We completely appreciate what Shelter is trying to do. GCC should be apologising for breaching statutory duty on a regular basis.”

Meanwhile the workers and the lawyers just keep going. In Possilpark Connelly is finally seen at 3pm and 40 minutess later has a place at a rundown B&B. The next stage, says Barrett, is getting him a home. If Shelter’s approach works, that might come sooner for others in his position.