Blog: Housing First Scotland

Doug Gibson

Doug Gibson from the Glasgow Homelessness Network (GHN) reflects on Housing First in anticipation of today’s major conference.

I regularly feel and/or look like an idiot. There are many reasons for this but for the sake of brevity and reputation let’s focus on one: Housing First.

You see, I’m lucky to have a network of family and friends who take an interest in my life and what I do. In turn, they take an interest in my work.

So they ask what I do.

I tell them I work for a homelessness charity.

They ask what the job entails, what I’m currently working on.

I tell them I’m particularly passionate about the work being done around Housing First.

They ask, “What’s Housing First?”

I excitedly tell them that Housing First is a radical new approach that’s increasingly getting traction in the global response to homelessness.

“Radical, you say,” they say.

“Yes, indeed,” I say as I begin to give them some context. About how we’ve traditionally done things. How we developed a tiered model, or ‘staircase’ model. How people in the desperate position of homelessness would need to prove over time that they were ‘ready’ for a home. How it was all in some sense a complex, marathon game of Snakes and Ladders, giving people every opportunity to fail. Every opportunity to fall back into homelessness, addictions, poor mental health. Every opportunity to get caught in the system, in the experience, and in the dehumanising label: “the homeless.”

They express dismay at this and ask what this new, radical model does differently.

I tell them that Housing First focuses on rapidly getting someone into a safe, secure, long-term tenancy and wrapping them with caring, flexible, indefinite support.

It’s at this point that they look a little nonplussed and I look a lot like an idiot.

Because what I’ve just described is common sense.

It is the solution you would get from a child if you asked them how to help someone who is homeless. And this simple, common-sense solution is the single most effective model to successfully bring people with multiple and complex needs out of homelessness. That has been proven time and again in the significant, credible, still-growing evidence for Housing First.

The questions now are not ones of proof. The questions now are ones of logistics: How do we make Housing First work at scale? How do we embed it in the mainstream response to homelessness in every area of the country? How do we keep it consistent and tight to the core principles whilst recognising the complex social, political, and structural differences of thirty two local authorities?

Luckily, in Scotland we have literally thousands of decent, determined people across every sector working every day (and night) to answer these questions, and to deliver systems and solutions that make homelessness the rare, brief, urgent exception it ought to be.

This week in Stirling nearly two hundred and fifty such people will come together at this year’s sell-out Housing First Scotland Conference to share and discuss all things Housing First; to reflect on the momentum being built but equally on the challenges and doubts that remain.

A busy, exciting day in a busy, exciting time. One that feels like an incredible opportunity for us as a sector – as a society – to work together to transform the way we see and address homelessness.

Housing First is not a magic wand and it is not a catch-all solution. But it will be at the heart of what comes next. This week’s conference is a platform on which to create exactly what that will be.

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