Callum Chomczuk: Why Housing First really matters for Scotland

CIH Scotland national director Callum Chomczuk reflects on the importance of getting Housing First right in Scotland.

Callum Chomczuk
Callum Chomczuk

Scotland can end homelessness. Every year, thousands of our fellow citizens are forced to make a homelessness application and for many, this crisis is compounded by severe and multiple needs such as poor mental health or having experienced domestic abuse. But with the right support, funding and commitment, homelessness can be a thing of the past.

Last year, almost 35,000 people made a homeless application, the first increase after 8 years of decline. Interrogating these numbers, we know that just under 6,000 people have long term issues that make sustaining a tenancy challenging. In addition, it costs the State around £20,000 for every person sleeping rough in the UK today.

We all need a home, and yet we have historically put up barriers to prevent helping those most in need to access secure, stable accommodation. We have expected those who have addiction issues, suffer from poor mental health or have simply left an unbearable family situation to have reached a level of stability before offering a tenancy, not recognising a stable tenancy is an absolute pre-requisite to addressing other issues or vulnerabilities. This has meant that some of those who are already homeless have had their situation made worse by the services that are meant to help them.

Those who are homeless and rough sleeping cannot afford to wait any longer. That is why a Housing First programme, which has both political and financial support behind it, is so important. This service, which literally puts housing first, gives people a secure, stable home and builds care and support services around that person’s needs.

Across Scotland today, our cities are taking steps towards rolling out Housing First at scale. 800 tenancies will be provided in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee and Stirling over the next two years to those who are homeless and have some of the most acute support needs. This is to be applauded, but two years isn’t enough to tackle the backlog and support all who require Housing First; the challenges with homelessness are not a quick fix. We need to see a commitment to fully fund Housing First beyond 2021 and for these pilots to act as a catalyst so Housing First is rolled out across all 32 local authorities.

There are challenges in delivering Housing First to the scale required. Earlier this month, Glasgow City Council announced a reduction of £2.6m funding for homeless services that don’t align with their Housing First approach. While this commitment to Housing First is welcome and needs to be resourced, it is vital the transition between existing service provision and the new model is maintained and that those with the greatest needs do not lose out on essential services.

In 2019, we celebrate the 100th anniversary of legislation that started the construction of subsidised social housing across the UK, legislation that made housing a national responsibility; we need a national conversation about housing as a human right and for Housing First to be part of that conversation. This recognition would help to secure the homes and services needed to eradicate homelessness.

The steps taken on Housing First are groundbreaking. We are mapping the scale of the problem and building a new culture and policy environment. Housing professionals can ensure that everyone receives the right response first time round to meet the ambition of Housing First, but only if our dedication is matched by funding and support from all parts of the public sector that benefit from reducing homelessness. But if that is realised, then the possibility of ending homelessness in Scotland is in sight.

  • Callum Chomczuk is the national director of CIH Scotland. This article first appeared in The Herald.

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