Blog: First steps towards transforming temporary accommodation in Scotland

Jon Sparkes

Jon Sparkes on the latest news from the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group, transforming temporary accommodation and gathering the views of hundreds of people with experience of homelessness.

Last week saw the eighth meeting of the Scottish Government’s Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group (HRSAG).

Meeting in the centre of Perth, we were delighted to begin by recognising Housing Minister Kevin Stewart’s acceptance in principle last week of all our rough sleeping recommendations. While in many ways this is still very early in the journey, it represents a significant milestone, and it is fantastic to know we have the support of the government behind the proposals we have developed with colleagues and people with experience of homelessness.

The experiences of people who have been homeless has been at the heart of our thinking from the start, and so we turned to the second report of Aye We Can, which Glasgow Homelessness Network have worked hard to co-ordinate. They have listened to the views of 425 people from every part of Scotland, either through focus groups, on the phone or by on online survey, all with current or recent experience of homelessness. Some core themes emerged from the consultation:

  • People’s priority is to have a safe and affordable home of their own
  • People want services to work together to help people end their homelessness
  • Staff need to understand and be able to respond effectively to the realities of people’s lives and circumstances
  • The best solution is to prevent homelessness happening in the first place
  • Many homeless people are hidden, and we need to get better at knowing the real numbers of people who are homeless
  • Collaborating with people with lived experience of homelessness can play a vital and lasting role in ending homelessness, both through identifying the right solutions and prioritising peer-based approaches in delivering solutions
  • We were very encouraged that these themes closely mirror the areas we have focused on as a group. The group is clear that the voices of people who have experience of homelessness must always be at the centre of what we do, and we will keep checking back to ensure we stay in line with what is really needed by the people at the sharp end of homelessness. And we want to ensure it continues beyond the lifetime of the group, and as our work is taken forward into the future – so we will communicate clearly with the Homelessness Prevention and Strategy Group (HPSG) that this needs to be a central feature of their work.

    Next we turned to the main topic for yesterday’s discussion, the third of the four questions we have been tasked with: how do we transform the use of temporary accommodation in Scotland?

    We know that, while temporary accommodation (TA) can sometimes provide a necessary stopgap between someone becoming homeless and them moving into their new home, it has become a bottleneck, with thousands of households stuck in temporary accommodation on any particular day, often for lengthy periods. For many temporary accommodation is not temporary. And, as the system was originally designed, it is not integrated with the support people often need to stabilise their lives and move on from being without a home.

    It is also a highly complex system, which makes it easy to get lost in the technicalities of specific definitions and funding mechanisms. We have commissioned two projects to support our work:

    • A research project to understand in detail the current pattern of use of TA and issues facing local authorities;
    • A project to look at what implementing our recommendation to develop five-year Rapid Rehousing Transition Plans will need to look like in practice, and the support needed to develop and implement those plans
    • But it is clear to all the people round the table that the focus has to be on ensuring that homelessness is addressed as quickly as possible, and that people get treated as individuals, getting the support they need quickly and making sure any time in temporary accommodation is helpful and doesn’t hinder their progress.

      After a useful overview of the TA system from the Scottish Government’s Marion Gibbs, we then set about identifying the key elements of TA that need to be developed, changed or improved in order to have the best impact on ending homelessness. From these discussions some key themes began to emerge:

      • Minimise the requirement for temporary accommodation through approaches to prevention and access to housing, along the lines we have already recommended in our previous report.
      • Where TA is used, ensure that support is provided from day 1, both to stabilise any issues contributing to homelessness, and to support people on their route through TA and on to settled accommodation, employment, well-being and positive relationships. It was generally agreed that solutions that are tailored towards individuals and specific cohorts of people, including furnished flats and small units, work better than generic hostels or B&B.
      • Follow the evidence of Aye We Can and ensure suitable and flexible supply of TA options and allocations to end the use of B&B. Where TA is used there should be of high quality, backed by effective regulation. Shelter Scotland and the Chartered Institute of Housing have already recommended a framework for this for us to build on.
      • People must be able to move on from TA as quickly as is right for them, based on their needs and choices, by breaking down the barriers in the system which prevent people from moving forward. This might include barriers around the prioritisation and allocations of housing to homeless people for example.
      • The financial model: the current model is complex and doesn’t always lead to the best systems. We need to identify what is wrong and what would need to happen to facilitate a different approach. Of course, as part of a wider package of recommendations on prevention and housing access we expect that the numbers and costs of TA will reduce.
      • Re-engineering temporary and supported accommodation systems: everyone will need an accommodation solution but some people will need more support than others. At present these systems can operate quite separately, so we need to create a more person-centred approach to housing and support so that people get the right solution for their situation.
      • This gives us a useful starting place, and of course there is constructive cross-over with our previous thinking and the areas of recommendations we have already made. Having identified some broad areas of focus, we will take this work forward at our next stakeholder event on 27 March in Glasgow to enable us to move from these broad themes to some very specific recommendations. As ever, if you have any thoughts or comments we’d love to hear from you.

        The meeting finished with an inspiring presentation from Perth and Kinross Council. In the last few years they have transformed their homeless service and use of TA. Since 2014, they have reconfigured their services, merging Housing Options, homelessness and housing allocations to provide a fantastic example of a rapid rehousing system they call Homes First.

        In the process they have reduced the length of time people spend in temporary accommodation from 258 days to just 88, seen the waiting time for settled accommodation reduce from 441 days to just 77, reduced the need for temporary accommodation, and seen the number of live homeless cases more than halve. At the same time, they have seen a significant increase in the proportion of social homes let to homeless households, and saved money in the process.

        While they haven’t yet ended rough sleeping and homelessness altogether, this kind of whole systems transformation shows what is possible. There is more to be done, but we know there is much good practice already being undertaken around Scotland that we look forward to building on as we move forward to transform temporary accommodation and then end homelessness altogether.

        • 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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