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‘Nobody is being told they must go’: Orkney’s homeless could be sent across the sea due to isle’s accommodation crisis

A lack of hotels during the summer season, coupled with rising cases of homelessness and a shortage of council housing has left the council looking for alternative solutions.

Orkney Islands Council
To go with story by Andrew Stewart. Orkney Islands Council agrees their budget for 2024/25 Picture shows; Orkney Islands Council Offices. School Place, Kirkwall, Orkney. Andrew Stewart/DCT Media Date; Unknown

People who present as homeless to Orkney Islands Council could be re-housed in Caithness or Shetland, it has emerged.

Seasonal demand is creating a shortage of available accommodation in the county.

This emerged during a meeting of the council’s Education, Leisure, and Housing Committee this week.

The number of people actually affected by this is said to be very low and the arrangement would only last a couple of weeks.

And councillors heard that staff are working very hard to ensure people who present as homeless stay in Orkney.

However, there are a number of factors at play.

This includes more people presenting as homeless over the last few years and the council’s housing stock being full.

The busy summer season is also leaving a lack of availability at short-term accommodation, such as including local hotels and B&Bs.

It isn’t unheard of for local authorities to re-house people outside the council area they presented to.

But the situation in Orkney could mean someone having a body of water between them and their friends and family.

Are Orkney Islands Council arrangements causing ‘friction’?

Green councillor John Ross Scott asked if there had been “friction” with the arrangements.

He asked if the people who had presented hadn’t wanted to go to Caithness.

Illustrating his point, he made a comparison with a UK Government policy to send asylum seekers to Rwanda

He said: “I don’t want to dwell on this and I appreciate it’s only a small number.

“But it is interesting.

“I just wondered if there any friction involved around it – I mean, Caithness is hardly Rwanda.”

However, he quickly followed up the comment by saying: “Nothing’s wrong with Caithness.”

‘Pulling out all the stops’

The council’s service manager for housing, Lesley Mulraine, said she felt anyone in the situation would be reluctant to leave.

She said there is “an understanding” that the council has been “pulling out all the stops” to make sure sending someone to Caithness or Shetland is an “absolute last resort”.

Frances Troup is the council’s head of housing. She explained that the situation would see someone re-housed for “a couple of weeks” while they wait to be permanently re-housed.

She also explained “nobody is being told they must go”, to Shetland or Caithness.

The actual number of people affected by these arrangements is said to be less than five.

The report discussed by the committee yesterday shows that homeless presentations put to the council in 2023/24 were 144.

The year before the same figure was 142, and the year before that was 132.

Yesterday the committee also discussed a housing strategy that they hope will help ease this issue.

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