Blog: Final Action Group recommendations accepted by Scottish Government

Jon Sparkes

Jon Sparkes blogs on the final set of recommendations from the Homelessness & Rough Sleeping Action Group which have been accepted by the Scottish Government.

Today is a significant day in our efforts to end homelessness in Scotland for good as Local Government and Housing Minister, Kevin Stewart confirmed that the final recommendations of the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group (HARSAG) have been accepted by the Scottish Government. He also pledged that £21 million of the Ending Homelessness Together fund will be used to prioritise Housing First and rapid re-housing, ensuring the approach at the heart of the recommendations made by the Action Group will be taken forward swiftly.

Since the beginning of October, I have had the honour of chairing this Action Group, which has worked quickly and co-operatively to make proposals that will truly change the life of people affected by homelessness across Scotland. The 11 others on the group - Russell Barr, Maggie Brunjes, Mike Dailly David Duke, Suzanne Fitzpatrick, Josh Littlejohn, Lorraine McGrath, Susanne Millar, John Mills Shona Stephen and Alison Watson - have given their time and commitment in equal measure to provide the impetus and expertise required to address the Government’s commitment to tackling homelessness.

But of course, we didn’t ever think that 12 people in isolation would create the energy and momentum needed to make ending homelessness a reality. We have worked with 425 people with lived experience of homelessness; with the dedicated frontline staff who work with homeless people every day and several hundred people across sectors attended our stakeholder meetings. We have also benefited from powerful research from Heriot-Watt university and the input of a range of experts to help convert our recommendations into practical steps.

Our fourth and final report builds on and completes the set of recommendations we have already made to bring an end to homelessness in Scotland. Regular readers of this blog will be aware of the key proposals to date including:

  • Empowering and developing front-line workers to provide high quality and joined-up solutions for people who are risk of homelessness or who become homeless;
  • Reviewing the law so that public bodies have a duty to help prevent homelessness, and remove many of the barriers that prevent homeless people from getting the help they need;
  • Commit to providing the housing that is needed beyond the current programme to build 35,000 social homes; and
  • Putting rapid re-housing and Housing First at the heart of Scotland’s response to homelessness so that people who become homeless, or who are at risk of homelessness, are quickly housed and provided with the support they need to move on with their lives
  • Building on this foundation, our final focus is on the wider issues that can impact on homelessness where intervention could either prevent it happening in the first place or minimise its impact, after all tackling homelessness is much more than just putting a roof over someone’s head. A whole systems approach is essential to tackle the issue and so the system across government should provide a coherent and comprehensive response to ending homelessness. These four key areas are:

    1. Addressing wider causes of homelessness
    2. Above all else, homelessness is the result of poverty. There is already considerable work addressing this huge issue in Scotland through the Poverty and Inequality Commission and the Child Poverty Delivery Plan, and these agendas need to work together so that no individual is pushed further into poverty or into homelessness because we haven’t co-ordinated support.

      Social security, while mainly reserved to Westminster, is a key element in supporting this. That is why the Action Group has recommended that the Scottish Government work with the Westminster Government to pursue changes in the way that housing support and social security work to mitigate the worst impacts of welfare reforms for people at risk of homelessness.

      Housing is of course central to ending homelessness. We have built on our previous ask to see a political commitment beyond the current programme so that the supply continues to flow to those who need it most.

      People who have moved to Scotland and then become homeless need support, just like anyone else who loses their home, and we must make sure they have access to emergency accommodation and advocacy as quickly as possible.

      1. Early intervention with high risk groups
      2. Action at the earliest point possible has been a consistent theme throughout our work. At this final stage, we particularly wanted to emphasise the needs of young people and the importance of joined-up working in this area. Our recommendations here focus on care leavers, building homelessness into the children’s services framework, housing options for young people and on putting support in place where children are homeless.

        1. Effective responses to those facing crisis
        2. Building on the enhanced prevention and rapid rehousing approach we set out previously, we need to hard-wire this across services. Health and Social Care Partnerships have a major role to contribute - and a major benefit to reap, as demonstrated by the new data published last week linking homelessness with health service use. To reinforce the rapid rehousing agenda, we make specific recommendations to help housing services, allocations and planning put thinking around homelessness and the use of temporary accommodation at the centre. And of course, we need support to help people deal with ongoing issues that may come up in tenancies, such as problems paying rent, isolation, domestic abuse and helping people access employment.

          1. Wider societal and government approach to homelessness
          2. This cannot be achieved by government alone. It will also require a commitment that transcends politics. We need to tackle stigma around homelessness through greater public awareness. Homelessness must be an integral part of the agenda to reduce socioeconomic disadvantage and become a priority for public health. And we are clear that to implement all of this will need funding, but we must look not just at the costs but also at the benefits that this work will achieve.

            The work of HARSAG will not stop cold with these recommendations, much of it will now be taken forward by the Homelessness Prevention and Strategy Group which I am delighted to sit on. This group is comprised of a diverse group of people with an active interest in homelessness and is c-chaired by Kevin Stewart and Councillor Elena Whitham, Community Wellbeing Spokesperson, COSLA, co-Chair. We have already started working on taking forward several aspects of the recommendations including:

            • developing and implementing pathways for the groups who are predictably at highest risk of rough sleeping similar to the SHORE standards for prisoners, focusing on implementing these effectively
            • empowering the frontline, learning from the winter actions and developing a clear idea of what a good outreach service looks like
            • consider how to embed multi-agency working across services
            • working with local authorities to transition to rapid rehousing by default, providing necessary support to them as required
            • This is an encouraging start and a testament to the hard work of everyone who contributed to the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group over the last nine months and I thank you all for your commitment and determination to ending homelessness in Scotland for good.

              • Jon Sparkes is chief executive at national homelessness charity Crisis and chairs the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group
              • This blog was originally published on the Crisis website.

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