COSLA calls for joined-up preventative approach to tackle homelessness

COSLAAn integrated, whole-system approach which addresses social inequalities and goes beyond housing is required to prevent and respond to homelessness in Scotland, according to the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA).

In its submission to a Parliamentary inquiry into homelessness, COSLA highlighted seven key messages it believes the local government and communities committee should consider when planning how to tackle the issue.

  1. A focus on prevention.
  2. “Three of the most common causes of homelessness are poverty, relationship / family breakdown and individuals having multiple complex needs. None of these issues are solved through housing alone – preventative support services have been cut to people at risk of homelessness as a result of pressure on public services. In-work poverty and welfare changes have put many more at risk.”

    1. Political leadership and accountability.
    2. “We acknowledge the concern from Shelter Scotland and others that homelessness requires political leadership. Importantly, we believe this requires a combined effort from Local and Scottish Government. While services need to be delivered at a local authority for the purposes of good accountability, local efforts can be supported by strategic direction and leadership at a national level through the Homelessness Prevention Strategy Group (HPSG).”

      1. The housing market (including the Affordable Housing Supply) must cater to those in most need and be developed strategically to prevent homelessness.
      2. It is clear that there needs to be an increase in the affordable housing supply – and we are working with Scottish Govt and RSLs to increase stock. While numbers are important, Scotland must also take an intelligent approach to the type of home that is being built and its affordability. This requires creativity in fabric design and also surfaces questions about the purpose of social housing in Scotland and how the property market can be influenced to work for communities. We would welcome a conversation with the Scottish Government and other stakeholders about how this vision might be developed further.”

        1. A joined-up, multi-agency approach.
        2. “Services demand contribution from all agencies (especially health, justice and social security), as well as private and social landlords but should continue to be locally planned and led by the council as the closest accountable level of government to our communities. The need for multi-agency working aligns with COSLA and Scottish Government’s commitment to the principles of public service reform outlined in the Christie Commission.”

          1. A focus on outcomes and people rather than outputs and statistics.
          2. “Homelessness statistics alone and taken at face-value often tell us little about the reality on the ground. We need to be more focused on people. Quantitative indicators have their place as a tool for accountability and transparency but there are dangers in using these alone in the absence of contextual qualitative information.”

            1. A need for evidence-based policy.
            2. “In particular we need to know more about rough sleeping (not to be confused with street begging) and about temporary accommodation (i.e. reasons for lengthy stays and myth-busting about standards).”

              1. Tackling poverty and mitigating welfare reforms.
              2. “It is imperative that any response to homelessness considers the impact of poverty on housing outcomes, that is to say their ability to pay rent, and maintain an adequate standard of living. The Scottish Government, Local Government and other public bodies have a role to play in tackling poverty through mitigating welfare reforms which threaten to increase homelessness, targeting support to people in poverty and as responsible employers.”

                A COSLA spokesperson told Scottish Housing News: “It has been encouraging to see the committee turn its attention to homelessness and the variety and strength of responses to their inquiry shows that Scotland continues to take the issue seriously. COSLA is clear that tackling homelessness requires a joined-up, preventative approach by a whole range of organisations and services that go beyond housing.

                “We hope to continue Scotland’s strategic approach to preventing and dealing with homelessness through the Homelessness Prevention and Strategy Group which is co-chaired by the COSLA and the minister. The group will be re-energised this summer and will drive any necessary improvements in the way agencies respond to homelessness.

                “While this national leadership is crucial, homelessness ultimately needs to be tackled locally and requires a range of sectors to contribute to improving housing outcomes.”

                In its own submission, the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) stressed the need to retain a focus on implementing the target of 50,000 affordable homes as an important part of the solution to tackling homelessness.

                Read the full range of submissions to the call for evidence here.

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