Jon Sparkes: HARSAG – what next?

Jon Sparkes: HARSAG – what next?

Jon Sparkes

Jon Sparkes provides a summary of progress from the latest Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group (HARSAG) meeting last Thursday. Proposals for how to end homelessness in response to the coronavirus pandemic are now currently with the Scottish Government for consideration.

Last week the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group (HARSAG) met to review a revised set of recommendations for action. We considered the wide range of feedback received and, following extensive discussion, reached agreement on the final recommendations which have now been submitted to the Scottish Government for consideration.

Since HARSAG was reconvened at the beginning of this month, our aim was clear – to develop a set of recommendations outlining how people facing homelessness during the coronavirus crisis would be supported to move on from emergency accommodation to settled housing rather than going back to the street or congregate facilities, and to ensure that we continue to build on work to prevent homelessness and implement the Scottish Government and COSLA plan ‘Ending Homelessness Together’.

As we are still in a crisis situation, our timelines were tight. We had a matter of weeks to put together our draft recommendations, engage widely and agree on what steps are needed. This did not affect our ambition. Responses were received from over 60 organisations and groups, including from the Change Team – a group of people with lived experience and front-line expertise. We’re extremely grateful to everyone who took the time to feed in.

Our recommendations will be published in full in due course, along with the response from the Scottish Government. At this stage I can share a top-line summary.

  1. Continuing to respond to the ongoing coronavirus crisis

a) Ongoing access to suitable emergency self-contained accommodation to ensure people are not exposed to coronavirus by rough sleeping or staying in congregate settings

b) Support, advice and advocacy for all people rough sleeping or in emergency accommodation during the coronavirus crisis response

c) Full and frequent audit of current situation

  1. Ensuring nobody returns to rough sleeping or unsuitable temporary accommodation

a) Ensure there is an immediate flexible supply of affordable housing for all in emergency accommodation or rough sleeping

b) Maximise housing options for everyone facing homelessness

c) Learning from the coronavirus response and sharing best practice

  1. Urgent activity and approaches to prevent homelessness happening in the first place

a) Immediate prevention activity for groups facing an increased risk of homelessness during and following the coronavirus crisis

b) Extend the emergency protections for renters created during the coronavirus pandemic

c) Prevent rough sleeping for people with complex needs and those excluded from services

d) Strengthen and accelerate prevention programmes

e) Prevent migrant homelessness and destitution

f) Urgent requests of the Westminster Government in relation to migrant homelessness and welfare

  1. Building on progress on the Scottish Government and COSLA ‘Ending Homelessness Together’ action plan

a) Continue to strengthen the national plan for ending homelessness

b) Strategic housing needs response

c) Rapid rehousing and maximum housing options for all

d) Preventing homelessness

There is of course much more detail under each of these headlines.

Finally, I would like to thank the members of HARSAG who agreed to come together at very short notice to address these important issues, and who have worked intensively over the last three weeks to build a set of recommendations that we hope very much will form the basis of the next phase of the Scottish Government’s plan to support people facing homelessness as the coronavirus situation continues.

Jon Sparkes is chief executive of Crisis and chairs the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group

  • Read all of our articles relating to COVID-19 here.
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