‘Aye we can’ – proposals to end homelessness and rough sleeping in Scotland
Following the latest Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group stakeholder event last month, CIH Scotland’s policy and practice officer Susanne Flynn reflects on the group’s recommendations for eradicating homelessness and rough sleeping, and explores some of the challenges ahead as we look towards implementation.
In March of this year, the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group (HARSAG) published a set of recommendations aimed at ending rough sleeping and homelessness in Scotland.
The recommendations, which have since been accepted in principle by Minister for Local Government and Housing Kevin Stewart MSP, are wide-ranging and focus on providing a number of both short and long term solutions.
The group has been busy meeting with a range of people from across the housing sector, as well as those with personal experience of homelessness, and at its latest stakeholder event in Glasgow, feedback was sought on how the recommendations have been received so far and what else needs to be considered to ensure effective implementation.
While the recommendations are ambitious, the sector is generally supportive of the proposals; in particular, there is wide support for a ‘rapid rehousing’ approach (including Housing First) and for proposals which focus on creating greater joint working between local authorities and other agencies.
Similarly, the recommendations are viewed as an opportunity to reimagine homelessness services and to challenge current thinking around the support that homeless people can expect to receive.
While this support is encouraging, a number of concerns remain around the issues of sustainable funding, the high costs of providing intensive support to those with complex needs, and the strategic and legislative challenges of ensuring a smooth transition to this new approach. Building on current political commitments and maintaining momentum were also perceived to be challenges which will need to be overcome as the group looks to deliver on its recommendations.
However, underpinning much of this is the need for the Scottish Government to deliver on its commitment to build 50,000 affordable homes by 2021, and to continue to invest in good quality, affordable housing in the future. Without increasing overall supply, there remains a risk that some individuals and households will continue to find themselves stuck in inadequate or overcrowded accommodation, or face lengthy stays in unsuitable temporary housing.
As well as proposals to end rough sleeping, HARSAG is also working to develop a further set of recommendations around transforming the use of temporary accommodation.
According to the latest Scottish Government statistics, while the numbers living in temporary accommodation saw a modest increase of just 1% from 2016 – 2017, the length of time people are spending in temporary housing is increasing. There has also been a worrying rise in the number of children living in temporary accommodation.
The initial proposals emerging from the group include an emphasis on homelessness prevention and ‘rapid rehousing’, creating more tailored support for those being placed in temporary accommodation, and delivering a more joined up approach to ensure that the right solutions are found at the right time.
While the recommendations currently being developed will seek to minimise the use of temporary accommodation, the group recognises that there remains an important role for good quality temporary housing for those who need a stop-gap until a settled home is found.
The proposals being set out and developed by HARSAG are a positive step in the right direction, and the ambition of the group and the stakeholders involved should be commended. However, while the recommendations are based on sound principles, successful implementation will require a huge effort on the part of local authorities and other agencies, and ensuring a consistent approach to delivery across the board will be key.
The current £50 million commitment from the Scottish Government is welcome and should help to cover the upfront costs of transition, but it is unclear at this point whether there will be longer term costs associated with the recommendations and how these would be funded. Housing First, for example, has proven to be very successful where it has been implemented but requires intensive, open ended support, not just a one off investment. CIH Scotland will continue to contribute to the HARSAG discussions and we look forward to seeing more detailed proposals about how housing organisations and partners can work together to achieve positive changes to homelessness and temporary accommodation services across Scotland.