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Scottish Government Homelessness & Rough Sleeping Action Group: 5th meeting

Jon Sparkes, Chief executive, Crisis

19.01.2018 1073 XX

With the festive season behind us, members of the Scottish Government’s Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group were as focused as ever when we met for the fifth time in Shelter Scotland’s offices in Edinburgh this week.

As we continue to work hard to develop our recommendations on how to end rough sleeping for good, it’s heartening to report that the short-term interventions put in place to help more people this winter are already having an impact.

  • In Edinburgh, we have additional winter shelter spaces in place, and the rapid access places run by Edinburgh Council have enabled more direct contact for frontline workers to help people into longer-term accommodation with the required support services.
  • In Glasgow and Edinburgh, greater co-ordination and the availability of personalised and emergency budgets has improved our ability to deliver flexible solutions for individuals who are sleeping rough
  • And, in Aberdeen, the outreach team put in place for this winter is enabling more support to be given to more people who are sleeping rough

These are just some of the initiatives underway and going forward it will be critical to identify how the successes in changing practices can be up-scaled and replicated to end rough sleeping for good.  Lorraine McGrath, from Simon Community Scotland and Streetwork, is leading on this workstream and will work to continue to engage with sector colleagues to determine how we can put in the right principals, processes and guidance to support a change in practice for the long-term goal.

As I mentioned last time, preventing rough sleeping occurring in the first place is a core strand of our thinking. Alison Watson, from Shelter Scotland, has been leading on this work, and looking at it from two angles:

  • Firstly, preventing people from becoming homeless when they leave a statutory institution such as a prison, a healthcare facility, the care system of the armed forces. One great example of this sort of work is the scheme launched by the Scottish Prison Service, the Sustainable Housing on Release for Everyone (SHORE) standards. We need to ensure there are similar pathways for people leaving every public system or institution. We also need to go beyond this, because the transition from a public institution is not the only point at which people become homeless – here we are talking about people who have been in care; not just care leavers; people who have been in the armed forces; not only people when then leave the armed forces, and so on.
  • Secondly, preventing people from becoming homeless when the risk arises – people who lose their tenancy, women who are abused by partners or husbands, people who lose their jobs, LGBT young people whose relationship breaks down with their parents, and all the many other reasons why people are at risk of homelessness. We are exploring how to build on the success of Housing Options, by ensuring that assessments and assistance can happen where it needs to happen and be done by the most appropriate agency. Importantly, these interventions need to be hardwired into the system in order to provide pathways to support people into stable housing with the support they need.

We also had an initial discussion about measurement, asking ourselves what needs to be in place to measure and monitor rough sleeping, and to enable Local Authorities and other agencies to take timely action in response to changes in the scale and nature of rough sleeping in different places. Our current thinking is that a national system like the Combined Homelessness and Information Network (CHAIN) model, a multi-agency database recording information about rough sleepers and the wider street population in London, would work across Scotland but we need to develop and test our views on this and whether it would work practically.

While most of our recommendations are going to be about changes that do not require legislation, we are considering whether there are areas where legislation might be needed. The particular areas we are examining are:

  • Do we need a prevention duty to ensure that local authorities have a duty to prevent where someone is at risk of homelessness, and other public bodies or organisations commissioned by the public purse have a duty to co-operate with the local authority?
  • Do we need to do something different to address barriers to helping people, like intentionality and local connection?

With Mike Dailly, of Govan Law Centre, leading we will continue to explore the potential options while remaining cognisant that legislation takes time and the momentum behind ending rough sleeping is now. So, even if we do recommend changes in law, we will still need to put maximum effort into re-wiring systems, leadership, culture, guidance and applying best practice.

Many of our proposals on rough sleeping will change our approach to temporary accommodation. If the default position becomes moving someone to settled accommodation with the support they need, and only resorting to temporary accommodation in emergency situations, then the use of temporary accommodation will be different. However, the Group is also going to commission some research to establish the true picture of temporary accommodation across the country – including use of B&B, furnished flats, hostels, short-term tenancies and so on. Based on this research we will try to determine the optimal use of temporary accommodation in an environment where a housing-led approach is the default.

To really clarify this point, we can see a role for temporary forms of accommodation in a system where the key elements of the system would be:

  • Rapidly re-housing people who are at risk of homelessness
  • Using Housing First as the default approach for people who are sleeping rough and have complex needs
  • Using emergency or temporary forms of accommodation where someone’s medical, mental health or security needs mean they can’t take on a mainstream tenancy (with or without intense support) until they have received the support they need

Our approach is not simply about making temporary accommodation better or shorter-term, but to push as hard as we can for rapid re-housing to be the default approach. This is going to take some changes to the supply of housing and to the commissioning of support services.

Looking forward, later this month we will have our second meeting of the wider stakeholder group which generated such valuable contributions at their first meeting. The solutions suggested to us have without doubt informed our emerging recommendations on how to end rough sleeping and transform temporary accommodation and this next gathering will look at how we can implement these across the country in a way that is practical and manageable. We will also move onto looking at the last question on how we can work to end homelessness in Scotland for good. Crucially, participants with lived experience of homelessness who took part in the Aye we can series of workshops will also be involved in the session.

The role of this wider sector engagement, which goes on continuously behind the scenes as members of the Action Group gather evidence and expertise from those working in all areas of homelessness, cannot be underplayed in helping build the momentum for change which I believe will make the work of this Group and all of us working to end homelessness a reality.

In that spirit, can I say that if anyone has anything to contribute, and they are not able to get involved in the Aye we can series of events or the stakeholder meetings, please do get in touch. We are reaching out as much as we can, but I know there is a huge amount of expertise out there on homelessness and other associated and related issues. I hope to hear from you with your thoughts on how we end rough sleeping, and indeed homelessness, for good.

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