Blog: Is the homeless sector up for it?

Jim Barclay

Following on from last week’s Annual Homelessness Conference, Glasgow Homeless Network’s Jim Barclay issues a challenge to the sector to work closer together to end homelessness in Scotland.

Over the last few years, I have attended several conferences either through my employment or because of my interests – sometimes both. Just over a year ago, I was invited to attend as a guest at the Homeless Network’s (GHN’s) 22nd Annual Homelessness Conference while I was working for a Local Authority as a social worker in a justice team. Shortly after that conference last year, I left the statutory sector to return to working in homelessness with the Homeless Network.

Homelessness has been an interest of mine for many years and having experienced homelessness myself on a few occasions in my life, I now cannot see myself working in any other area.

For a few years I had been writing articles on social media, angry at the way the homeless system in Scotland operated, and having a largely negative view of the system overall. However, sometimes all it takes is for someone to open your eyes which then allows you to get a better picture of exactly what is going on in the sector.

I still write the odd article, but there has been a significant shift regarding the nature of what I write. Now there is much more of a focus on the positive work taking place in the homeless sector in Scotland, and less of a focus on the problems. Being in a position to see what is going on within the sector has completely changed my point of view, and now I hope to change other people’s perceptions and highlight the hard work being done right across the country – from the government down.

This year’s conference had the theme ‘No Wrong Door’. From a personal viewpoint, ‘No Wrong Door’ to me means being passed from ‘pillar to post’ – something that was a regular occurrence during my time as a service user. Visiting a range of services to be told that they could only support me with one of a few issues, before sending me on my way, often resulted in my giving up and choosing instead not to engage with services.

The aim of the day was to focus on several of the Homelessness And Rough Sleeping Action Groups’ 70 recommendations, ones which could broadly fit into the No Wrong Door theme, and with approximately 250 people in attendance, it was clear that we were not the only ones who felt that we need to share good practice, simplify an extremely complex process, and connect better with one another as we aim to improve the system in this country.

There were many highlights of the conference for me, one of which being Dame Louise Casey announcing that Glasgow will be a ‘vanguard city’ with the Institute of Global Homelessness – an organisation with the aim of addressing homelessness across the globe.

Some blokes might get star struck meeting football players or pop stars – I was star struck meeting Dame Louise!

Having some lived experience of homelessness, and with the TV cameras there to capture some of the conference for the STV evening news, I felt privileged to be asked by the reporter to share some of my personal experiences of homelessness. Hopefully I managed to get across to people watching that homelessness does not have to be the end. Sometimes it can be just the beginning.

I was then asked if I thought we could end homelessness in Scotland. Now, if I was asked this over a year ago, there is no doubt that I would have said “not a chance”. But being around people who are passionate about ending homelessness in this country, and with a real sense of momentum which is continuing to grow, I have no doubt that we can.

Not so long ago, I was of the view that there were too many individuals, services, or organisations who were working towards ending homelessness, yet they were working in isolation. It felt almost like a jigsaw, where only the edges were completed.

Now, however, I feel that more and more of us are pushing in the same direction. Together, I get the feeling that more and more people have realised that homelessness does not have to exist. That it is a problem that CAN be solved. We just need to have everyone working in true partnership and listening to the true experts about how we go about fixing it – the people with experience of homelessness.

It’s like the jigsaw is now almost complete, but there are still one or two pieces that need to be added to finish it off. And to finish it off we need to have you on board - working with us, not against us, to end homelessness in this country.

Being part of the day, instead of being only a guest, highlighted just how much work goes into arranging a conference such as this. And it doesn’t stop after the conference ends! The work will continue, and now we need to focus on where we go from here.

We don’t want all that positive energy to be forgotten about a few hours after everyone had left for the day, and we asked every one of the 22 tables to come up with a challenge that they would like to see addressed. Now we will work on how we can support others to rise to and meet these challenges.

My experiences have enabled me to work in the sector for many years now, and every day I still feel honoured to work in homelessness, with people whose sole purpose it is to improve the system for people experiencing stigma and discrimination every day of their lives.

And if people continue to work in partnership the way we are clearly doing now, it won’t be long before homelessness is a thing of the past in Scotland and we can focus on our role as a vanguard city and share our knowledge and expertise with others to help address homelessness in many other cities across the world.

If I can change my views and be optimistic about the future of a system that I was once part of, I am sure you can too.

I’m up for building on the momentum around now, and up for working closer together to end homelessness in Scotland.

Are you?

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