AN APPEAL has been made for churches to join forces and help homeless people by launching a ‘starter pack’ scheme in East Lothian.

A meeting for invited guests to discuss the plan, organised by Scottish Churches Housing Action (SCHA), will be held at Musselburgh Congregational Church on Tuesday evening.

The proposed starter packs would include essential items that could be given to people who had been homeless and had been allocated a home, increasing their chances of maintaining their tenancy.

The proposal follows work carried out by SCHA for East Lothian Council, assessing the contribution made by the churches to helping people in poverty, homeless or at risk of homelessness.

The organisation also looked at what potential there might be for more aid and local homeless people were asked what they needed.

In 2009-10, East Lothian recorded 1,196 homelessness applications – the highest ever figure in the county.

The following year the figure was stable at 1,192 but in subsequent years there was a dramatic reduction, with the figure for 2015/16 standing at 682.

This is largely in line with the wider Scottish experience, following the introduction of the housing options approach which was introduced in East Lothian from April 2011 and offers various advice to those with a housing problem.

The county’s latest figure is 57 per cent of the high point, while the equivalent Scotland figure is 60 per cent.

The total demand on the homeless service in the last full year for which figures are available, 2015-16, was 1,364 households. Some 682 were assessed as homeless under the legislation. The others were dealt with through the housing options and prevention processes, had their issue resolved prior to assessment or lost contact with the service.

In relation to general housing applications, the average number of days on priority status for housing before getting allocated a house is 400 days – one year and five weeks.

For a smaller, general needs house, the average is 484 days and, in parts of the council area, it is considerably higher, notably Prestonpans, where the average stands at 588 days or nearly 18 months.

Fresh Start is one of a number of ‘starter pack’ projects in Scotland, most of which have been developed with the support of SCHA.

A starter pack comprises pots, pans, cutlery, crockery, bedding and other household necessities. These are collected through the churches, assembled into packs by volunteers and distributed to people who have been homeless at the point they take up a tenancy. This means people are not just moving into an empty house or flat and increases the chances of them maintaining the tenancy.

Alastair Cameron, chief executive of SCHA, said: “Across Scotland, SCHA’s experience is that there is a huge reservoir of goodwill towards homeless people in the churches.

“Homeless people in East Lothian are almost all local people.

“Starter packs offer a very practical way in which local churches can help them, building on what is already done through support for foodbanks, local homelessness projects and the like.”

An East Lothian Council spokesperson said: “We are delighted to be part of the forthcoming meeting organised by SCHA to explore further how local churches can support and assist those who are most vulnerable in our society.”

Congregations will be asked to appoint a volunteer to gather donated goods to be delivered to a central point and possibly to provide volunteers to pack and carry out distribution duties.

Further information is available at