Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

Council inquiry into Edinburgh graveyard eviction letters

St Cuthbert's churchyard. Image copyright Google

An investigation has been ordered after homeless people sleeping rough in Edinburgh cemeteries were handed eviction letters.

The council asked police to move them from Greyfriars Kirkyard and St Cuthbert's churchyard.

However, the move was condemned by charities, and the councillor responsible for tackling homelessness said she was "utterly appalled".

City of Edinburgh councillors have now said the letters were a mistake.

The letters issued by Police Scotland stated that concerns had led to "an increase in anti-social behaviour and alcohol and drug-related issues".

They also said the council had identified a threat to public safety "with human excrement and drugs paraphernalia putting members of the public at risk".

Police issued 23 notices to rough sleepers from January to May - with one person moved into secure accommodation.

Councillor's anger

However, the city council's housing and economy convener, Kate Campbell, said a better approach was to direct rough sleepers to support services such as Streetwork, which are provided on behalf of the council.

Ms Campbell, said: "Evicting people from cemeteries and parks is absolutely not council policy and I'm utterly appalled that this has happened.

"Our approach to homelessness is to help people access the support they need to move into accommodation.

"Our focus had been on expanding outreach and support work, rapid access accommodation and delivering a housing first model for people who are rough sleeping and who have multiple and complex needs.

"I've spoken to the director of place and demanded an investigation into how this has been allowed to happen. And I will write to Police Scotland next week to make our approach clear.

She added: "I've also made it crystal clear that it is councillors, not officers, who set policy. There is not a single strategy or policy that has gone through committee recently that would support this abhorrent approach.

"I can absolutely guarantee that this practice has been stopped and will never happen again."

'Victorian-era punishment'

Claire Miller, whose council ward covers the city centre of Edinburgh, said: "I am astonished and really angry about these letters which seem to have gone out without any discussion with councillors.

"I am totally opposed to this kind of action which simply moves people from one place to another without doing anything to address why they are sleeping in graveyards in the first place.

"It's a sign of Edinburgh's deepening homelessness crisis that it's come to this.

"I understand that the letters have been stopped now, but it exposes a real need for front-line staff and police officers to get properly trained on how to work effectively with rough sleepers.

"They need help, not Victorian-era punishment."

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