Scottish Government accepts recommendations to end rough sleeping

New recommendations to ensure the commitment to eradicate rough sleeping in Scotland have been accepted in principle by the Scottish Government.

Set out by the government’s Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group, the full recommendations cover actions to prevent rough sleeping; empower frontline services; improve access to housing; strengthen legislation and develop a measurement framework.

The measures include a national system of rapid rehousing, involving integrated support from frontline outreach services and local authorities. This will include moving to a ‘Housing First’ model for those with most complex needs – where people move straight into a permanent, settled home rather than temporary accommodation.

The recommendations build on the group’s earlier advice to tackle rough sleeping over the winter period which led to £328,000 being invested to support additional capacity for night shelters and extra staff to help get more people into accommodation over winter.

The Scottish Government will now provide a further £150,000 to continue to provide some services to the summer, while the latest recommendations are taken forward.

Housing minister Kevin Stewart said: “As we come out of a particularly bad winter period, the action group’s work so far has been vital in ensuring front-line staff are supported  and that people are helped to move into safe and warm places to stay. Additional funding will allow the work that has taken place in our main cities to continue while we take the group’s hard work forward.

“I was extremely impressed by the fast and effective work of organisations supporting those sleeping rough during last week’s unprecedented and extreme winter weather and want to thank everyone involved for the work and commitment they have shown. It is now important that we build on this good work and these latest recommendations provide a blueprint to do that and reach our national priority to eradicate rough sleeping for good.

“The group’s recommendations focus on improving advice and support for those sleeping rough, and ensuring that housing, funding and services are directed at those who need them most.

“They will play a vital role in meeting our commitment to end homelessness and transform temporary accommodation, backed by our £50 million fund – which is why we have accepted them all in principle, and will now work closely with partners to implement.”

Jon Sparkes

Action group chair and chief executive of Crisis UK, Jon Sparkes, said: “Nobody in Scotland should have to endure the danger and indignity of sleeping rough, and these recommendations show what is needed to prevent people from being forced to live on the streets.

“These include providing immediate access to permanent housing for people who are sleeping rough or at risk of homelessness, such as people leaving a state institution, such as care or prison, and giving frontline staff the power to make informed decisions based on the needs of each individual.

“The members of the action group have gone above and beyond to dedicate themselves to bringing forward the right recommendations that will have the biggest impact on the way people sleeping rough can access and receive services. The group members have engaged colleagues across the sector, reviewed international evidence on what works, and listened to people from across the country who have experience of homelessness.

“We can end rough sleeping in Scotland. Other countries and cities around the world have done it, so we know it’s possible. With the right political will and momentum, we can make this a reality in Scotland too.”

The group will next make recommendations focused on transforming temporary accommodation, by Spring 2018, and ending homelessness for good, by Summer 2018.

Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick

Leading homelessness academic Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick, sits on the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group, has welcomed the housing minister’s response to the recommendations.

Suzanne, who is director of I-SPHERE at Heriot-Watt University, said: “We’re delighted that Scottish Ministers have accepted all recommendations from the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group.

“This is a crucial step forward in achieving the ambition to end rough sleeping in Scotland, and builds on extensive international evidence regarding the most effective responses to homelessness. We look forward to working with Scottish Government and other partners to implement these plans.”

The sentiments were echoed by CIH Scotland whose deputy director Callum Chomczuk said: “Rough sleeping is a national disgrace and the extreme weather last week further highlights that it is simply unacceptable in Scotland today.

“CIH Scotland welcomes the announcement by the Scottish Government that it accepts, in principle, the interim recommendations from the Housing and Rough Sleeping Action Group. We have been particularly pleased to see the Group’s endorsement of a Housing First approach to rapid rehousing having recently published a report on the positive impact of Housing First across the UK. We also commend the priority given to agreeing plans which can prevent homelessness among those who are at highest risk of rough sleeping.”

Callum Chomczuk added: “Given its crucial role in addressing some of the biggest issues facing the country such as child poverty and health inequalities, housing policy needs to be a consistent Government priority. That should include ending the blight of homelessness and rough sleeping and ensuring everyone in Scotland can access a stable and secure home.”

COSLA community wellbeing spokesperson, Elena Whitham, said: “I would like to add my thanks to organisations who worked so hard work to support those sleeping rough during last week’s extreme weather.

“This latest set of recommendations rightly focus on improving the offering available to those sleeping rough, or at risk of sleeping rough, across Scotland. We note the Minister has accepted all the recommendations in principle.

“The Minister is right, the recommendations will require concerted effort across all of the public sector to deliver. COSLA, Councils, and our partners in the housing sector, stand ready to engage with Scottish Government on how these recommendations, and those from the Local Government Committee’s report on homelessness, can positively influence work already underway to improve outcomes for rough sleepers and those at risk of homelessness more generally.”

ALACHO co-chairs Annette Finnan and John Mills added: “Homelessness and rough sleeping should be things of the past, that they are not shows up how unfair and unbalanced our housing system has become.

“ALACHO members will welcome these new recommendations, they reflect much of the good work that is already going on in local councils across Scotland.  We look forward to working with the Scottish Government and other partners to make the changes that our housing system needs as well as to arguing for the investment in new homes and improved support services to end the problem of homelessness and bad housing for good.”

While making the announcement, housing minister Kevin Stewart paid a special visit to staff from homelessness charity Bethany Christian Trust, thanking them for ‘going the extra mile’ during last week’s extreme blizzard.

The recommendations were made just days after Scotland experienced one of the worst blizzard conditions in years, leaving many people faced with the crisis of rough sleeping in a dangerous position without safe and warm shelter.

Kevin Stewart MSP met with some of Bethany’s staff and volunteers who run two of the charity’s key emergency services, the Winter Care Shelter which operates for 28 weeks a year, and the Care Van which is run in partnership with Edinburgh City Mission. As a result of the extreme winter weather, staff from Bethany’s Winter Care Shelter and the Care Van mobilised replacement teams last minute and worked extra shifts to support the number of people sleeping rough who required assistance during the blizzard.

Mr Stewart said: “I was extremely impressed by the fast and effective work of organisations like Bethany Christian Trust supporting those sleeping rough during last week’s unprecedented and extreme winter weather and want to thank everyone involved for the work and commitment they have shown. It is now important that we build on this good work and these latest recommendations provide a blueprint to do that and reach our national priority to eradicate rough sleeping for good.” 

Alasdair Bennett, director of operations at Bethany Christian Trust, added his thanks for everyone’s incredible support.

He said: “Throughout the worst of the weather the Care Van street teams still managed out every night and also for all our lunchtime outreaches, bringing hot drinks, fresh soup, food, blankets, sleeping bags, clothes, and hope. The Care Shelter has been in full operation and keeping men and women safe and warm, with hot two course meals every night.

“We are indebted to the amazing staff and volunteers who went the extra mile to save lives and keep all our frontline services going, including providing accommodation and support for a capacity of up to 175 people each night across the Lothians.”

Bob Doris MSP, who convenes the Scottish Government’s local government and communities committee which last month called for the implementation of a ‘Scottish style Housing First’ approach to tackle homelessness, has also welcomed the announcement.

Mr Doris said: “We welcome the Scottish Government’s decision to commit to Housing First, which offers homeless people a safe and secure permanent place to call home. This was one of our Committee’s key recommendations, following our year-long inquiry into the causes and long-term solutions to homelessness in Scotland.

“We know there is no quick-fix solution to ending homelessness but we think Housing First has the potential to make a huge difference to the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in society who are most at risk of rough sleeping.

“We look forward to receiving the Scottish Government’s full response to our report in due course.”