STREET homeless people in Scotland’s largest cities are now to be housed in hotels to keep them safe during the pandemic, the Sunday National has learned.

The Simon Community Scotland has been provided with £300k of Scottish Government funding to purchase hotel accommodation in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

In recent days there has been a growing clamour for the issue to be resolved when it emerged that, despite urgent public health concerns, people were being turned away from Glasgow City Council’s statutory out-of-hours homeless services.

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Last week the Sunday National reported fears raised by Glasgow City Mission that its homeless winter night shelter – where mats on the floor for up to 40 people are laid out inches apart – was not a suitable environment. It later decided it would close due to health fears before being ordered to do so on Tuesday when one guest and one staff member tested positive for Covid-19. Meanwhile, the Glasgow Night Shelter for Destitute Asylum Seekers, which has bunk beds, was also raising concerns about public health.

Despite high-level assurances that accommodation would be made available to street homeless people in the city, the Sunday National has heard that several people were told no accommodation was available to them, given sleeping bags and turned away on both Wednesday and Thursday nights. They included Scots with a legal right to accommodation and migrants with no recourse to public funds.

However, by yesterday, solutions were emerging. By late afternoon, funding was in place and plans with hotel chains “moving ahead rapidly”. Meanwhile, the 24 men who had been staying at the destitution night shelter for asylum seekers were moved into a hotel yesterday evening, where they will be accommodated in single rooms, allowing them to self-isolate if necessary.

Hugh Hill, director of operations for Simon Community Scotland, said: “The Scottish Government has just given the Simon Community £300k to purchase hotel accommodation in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

“On the one hand we’re being challenged daily. On the other, opportunities are being created that can help people in ways that would have been impossible two weeks ago.

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“A crisis can bring out the best, and sometimes the worst in people. We’re delighted to say we’re experiencing the best. We have been in discussion with hotel chains in both cities and are moving ahead rapidly.”

Annika Joy, director of the Glasgow Night Shelter for Destitute Asylum Seekers, said yesterday: “We’ve been working round the clock to find a solution and finally we have agreed that our guests can move into a hotel today. This is long overdue and it’s a massive relief that they are now living in accommodation that meets the public health guidelines on social distancing. This also ensures we can keep our amazing staff and volunteers safe and support them to carry out this essential work.”

Charles Maasz, director of Glasgow City Mission, said he was “devastated” that people had been forced to sleep rough last week, a situation he said was “unethical and inhumane”.

He claimed it was now essential that assurances were given that no-one, regardless of their immigration status, would be turned away if they were seeking help with housing. He said: “We have lots of housing stock, no conferences, no gigs and the students have gone home. Scotland can be leading the way.

“If the First Minister said to local authorities: ‘I don’t want to hear any more excuses – there must be no barriers to accommodation whether people have recourse to public funds or not’ – that would send a strong signal.

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“We could be clear that, if we are all human beings who breathe the air, we will take care of everyone’s needs in these extraordinary times. It has to come from the top. That is when doors open. Otherwise, we are sweeping people under the carpet and letting bacteria decide what happens.”

Gordon MacRae, assistant director of Shelter Scotland, said it was important that lessons were learned from the situation so that we never again find that homeless people were abandoned on the streets in the midst of a pandemic.

“Glasgow’s homeless services were not fit for purpose beforehand, but given this situation, they end up posing a very large risk to health,” he said. “To be dealing with such a broken system in the midst of a crisis is a catastrophe.

“Now more than ever the Scottish Housing Regulator needs to step in and use its full powers to guarantee safe access to accommodation for all. This needs to be treated as a public health priority.”

A spokeswoman for Glasgow City Health and Social Care Partnership said: “Glasgow city health and social care partnership has put in place contingency plans to reduce risk to vulnerable homeless people, many of whom have underlying health conditions. We’ve secured an array of temporary accommodation that will also allow people to self-isolate if necessary.”