Blog: Community Hubs – what are they and why do we need them?
By Angela McLachlan, national services manager for Shelter Scotland
Shelter Scotland’s Helpdesk deals with over 20,000 enquires every year, providing advice by telephone and on-line chat. The Helpdesk offers instant help and support to anyone with a housing query and is the main door to our services across Scotland.
So why then do we need Community Hubs? Could we not just grow the Helpdesk to deal with more people? If the Helpdesk was a Call Centre, then the answer to this question would be a simple Yes. Shelter Scotland’s Helpdesk is not offering a service to a customer base who are querying their credit card statement, for example, it is providing help and support to people who are often facing a myriad of problems, all of which are directly or indirectly impacting on their ability to keep a home for themselves, their children or their parents. The relationship is not transactional and needs to be person centred and focused on solving the housing problem. Shelter Scotland’s Helpdesk team do this brilliantly and they are helping and supporting people in growing numbers and depth every day.
Telephone and On-Line Chat does not work for everyone, however, and we recognise that there are often several overlapping problems which can make a housing situation worse. There is a growing need for our services to work with clients to help them with the range of issues they may be facing. All our Community Hubs offer independent housing advice alongside advice on money and debt, welfare benefits and fuel poverty as well as access to legal advice and advocacy. The benefits of this for the client cannot be underestimated. Simply put – we help de-stress an already stressed situation by, wherever possible, rallying our services around the person, rather than pointing the person in the direction of another service to deal with a “different bit” of the problem. Anyone coming to the Community Hub can be assured of assistance that will help untangle and deal with the whole problem. And if we can’t, then we will own the transfer to another service to ensure that the client does not have to repeat their whole story to someone else.
However, we also know that, often, people simply need the right information to enable them to effectively deal with a situation themselves. Our Open Door policy combined with our easy to access Information Station offers a resource within the local community which is available to anyone who needs information on what to do next. Each Information Station is staffed by both trained volunteers and specialist staff who can respond to any query and signpost to the best online information to support.
Our Community Hubs also make Shelter Scotland visible within the local community, making it clear that we are available both locally and nationally. Whilst housing and homelessness problems are a national concern, each city, town and village has its own local concerns and it’s essential that Shelter Scotland understands local concerns to help inform our ongoing work and service development. Big city problems don’t inevitably apply to rural areas, and the work in our Community Hubs gives us information to help us tailor local responses.
One of the best things about our Community Hubs is the opportunity it creates for Shelter Scotland to fully engage with people who come to us for help. It creates an opportunity for us to learn from people who know more than we do, i.e someone who has been through the hell of homelessness. This then helps us to evolve our services in tandem with what is actually needed, rather than what we think may be needed – and this is crucial for the people we are working to help and support daily.
Shelter Scotland has four Community Hubs in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen. You can find more information, including their addresses, on our advice directory.