Last week I hosted a Parliamentary Reception celebrating 30 years of the Stopover emergency hostel in Edinburgh.
During the event MSPs heard from staff and users of the service about the support that it offers to vulnerable young people.
When it opened on 13th July 1981, Stopover was the first hostel in Scotland dedicated to supporting homeless young people aged 16-21. The main concern of the time was the Dickensian conditions in several “common lodging houses”.
Although young homeless people at the time were vulnerable because of their age, they were not regarded as a priority under housing regulations. That meant many young people were forced into unsafe and unfit lodging houses and hostels. The lack of priority given to young people can be seen from the fact that in the first two years of operation, only 3% of referrals to the Stopover service came from the housing department.
Young people were finally recognised as a priority group through the Homelessness etc. (Scotland) Act 2003. However, the intention of the Act is to end the test of priority need, phasing it out by 2012 to reach a position whereby every unintentionally homeless person will be entitled to settled accommodation.
Over time, Stopover has developed a range of support services. Young people staying at the hostel are assigned a key worker who assists them to produce a personal development plan. The project helps these young people to play an active role in addressing the issues which have led to their homelessness and as a result, helps to improve their life chances.
In addition to this support, the project provides a number of additional services to assist young homeless people, including training, advice on debt and assistance to address housing needs.
Looking back over the last 30 years it is amazing to think what Stopover has achieved and it is now well established as a safe, caring and supportive environment for young homeless people. Staff at the project deserve tremendous credit for the work they have put in. It was also great to meet some of the young people who have been helped by Stopover and I was delighted to welcome them to the Parliament.