Malcolm Page: We need a CHAIN to understand rough sleeping

Malcolm Page: We need a CHAIN to understand rough sleeping

Malcolm Page

Malcolm Page leads a call from The Salvation Army for a system to be put in place that measures and records rough sleeping in Scotland.

Publication of Scotland’s Homelessness Statistics today again underline the scale of the challenge we face preventing and stopping homelessness. Woven through the statistics are thousands of stories of a person or a family trying to manage one of the most traumatic situations imaginable. Each has a backstory and a place on their journey where homelessness could have been prevented.

Worryingly, we know from our work and accounts from others that more people are sleeping rough, up from very low numbers during and immediately after the Pandemic. While today’s data release can tell us a lot, we cannot be certain it includes an accurate representation of rough sleeping in Scotland.

This is because rough sleeping is assessed through questions when someone makes a homelessness application, asking whether that individual has slept out recently. Because the figures are based on information given by people who have made a homelessness application, they exclude people who, for whatever reason, have not done so. It is good that this information is collected but it needs to be supplemented with real-time data from organisations that are in contact with people sleeping rough.

People with some of the sharpest experiences can be reluctant to register as homeless, choosing life outdoors for as many reasons are there are people living it. Too often, the most vulnerable evade detection and therefore are absent from official statistics, with the risk that funding and services do not align with need.

In London, organisations supporting people who are homeless collect and submit real-time data, building an accurate picture across the city through a process called CHAIN (Combined Homelessness and Information Network). In 2017, the Scottish Government created the Homelessness & Rough Sleeping Action Group (HARSAG). It’s initial findings included a recommendation to set up a CHAIN-type system in Scotland. Here at The Salvation Army, we know from experience working in London that resources can be allocated effectively when we have access to this sort of real-time information. That is why we are calling for a CHAIN-type system here in Scotland for areas with high street homelessness, in line with that recommendation.

We are all rightly proud that some of the strongest measures in place anywhere in the UK to protect people who are homeless are here in Scotland. By addressing the rough sleeping information gap we have an opportunity to further strengthen those protections for people in the most urgent need.

  • Malcolm Page is assistant territorial director, Homeless Services, with The Salvation Army. The Salvation Army runs homelessness services across Scotland, including 10 Residential services in Glasgow, South Lanarkshire, Perth, Edinburgh and Dundee; three outreach services in Greenock, Inverness and Aberdeen: two Housing First services in Glasgow and South Lanarkshire; two drop-in / hub services in Edinburgh and South Lanarkshire. It also provides support through its network of churches, from Stornoway to The Borders.
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