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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 December 2005, 02:15 GMT
Minister makes homeless priority
Communities Minister Malcolm Chisholm is preparing to make a major announcement on ending homelessness in Scotland by 2012.

In an article for the BBC Scotland news website, Mr Chisholm explains how he has had a long-standing commitment to eradicating the problem.

There are lots of issues which politicians feel passionately about.

When we think of poverty and social justice the images brought to mind aren't always bricks and mortar. Housing - and not having a home - isn't always at the head of the queue.

But for me it is something which I have always felt strongly about. Not only because it is a basic human right to have a roof over your head but also because where we live impacts on virtually every other aspect of our daily lives.

I have been very fortunate to have had the chance to shape policy in this area - firstly as Scottish Housing Minister after the 1997 election and now as Communities Minister with a direct responsibility for housing.

As Health Minister I saw this issue from another different perspective. There are clear, unmistakeable links between being homeless and your physical and mental health and well being.

When people think of homelessness, it is all too easy to push people into categories. Give them labels and they no longer count as individuals.

Any and all of us can lose our home when life gets tough - through family break-up, losing a job, suffering a breakdown or bereavement

Thirty years ago the language around this was more extensive and far uglier - for homeless, read alcoholic, mentally ill, vagrant, undeserving...essentially written off. And that provided an excuse for society to do nothing about it.

I'm from the generation that was jolted out of complacency by Ken Loach's film Cathy Come Home. It showed what being homeless meant to a real family and the real degradation they suffered. One quarter of the British population are said to have watched it when it first broadcast.

The film gave huge momentum to the charity Shelter and also prompted legislation at Westminster. It also made us see that any and all of us can lose our home when life gets tough - through family break-up, losing a job, suffering a breakdown or bereavement. But I wonder how much attitudes have truly changed. It's too easy to forget how far we have come. In 2003, the Scottish Parliament passed what has been described as the most progressive legislation in Europe.

Malcolm Chisholm
Mr Chisholm sees the issue as central to people's lives

The spirit of this legislation reflects a better understanding of how people become homeless and how it could happen to any one of us. It reflects what we all now see in our daily lives, all around us, that people who are homeless need help to rebuild their lives and that, with help, they truly can.

I am proud that this year Edinburgh was able to play host to the Homeless World Cup. The message was simple. A person who is homeless is still an individual, someone who wants to rebuild their life, share experiences, make friends, make their families proud...

Thousands of people cheered on teams from across the world. I wonder how supportive people would have been just 10, 15 years ago.

We need fair housing allocations where all applicants are treated as human beings and their needs are assessed properly. Above all, we need a system that treats people as individual human beings not as a label or category, deserving or otherwise.

I am determined that our focus will be targeted at tackling and preventing homelessness

The 2012 target to provide permanent homes for those unintentionally homeless is ambitious. It is entirely right that Scotland has this goal.

This is not to say that it isn't going to be a challenge for local authorities to deliver, but the Executive will be working with them and voluntary agencies.

No-one disputes the need to improve the lives of homeless people in Scotland.

I am determined that our focus will be targeted at tackling and preventing homelessness, working to develop ways in which the demands on housing supply can be met and making our pledge to deliver good quality, warm, affordable housing for all a reality for everyone in a Scotland where everyone has the chance to reach their full potential.

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