Martin Gavin: Taking the ‘P’ out of homelessness

Martin Gavin: Taking the ‘P’ out of homelessness

Martin Gavin

Introducing Homeless Network Scotland’s annual conference, which takes place later this month, the charity’s head of external relations Martin Gavin highlights one event which tackles the politics of homelessness policy.

Across the world, huge resources are deployed to try to understand and deal with rough sleeping, destitution and other forms of homelessness. Governments, both local and national, third sector organisations, universities, housing and health providers have teams and strategies focused on the issue. And yet homelessness is a worldwide problem that stubbornly persists despite the policy making, money and time that is ploughed into tackling it: why?

In an international context, Scotland has a progressive legal framework for ending homelessness at its disposal. But success ultimately requires a sustained programme of economic and social renewal over many years, or decades, to provide a pipeline of affordable housing, a flexible welfare system, opportunities for everyone to earn and learn, and reduce the income poverty that creates health inequalities.

On the afternoon of Wednesday 21 October, as part of the Homeless Network Scotland annual conference, a panel made up of Scottish political figures and third sector and lived experience leaders will discuss how to take the Politics out of homelessness. The panel, hosted by the Chair of the Housing First Advisory Group, Sir Andrew Cubie, will be challenged to take the long view on homelessness. Leading figures in homelessness policy are clear that lifting the issue above the ebb-and-flow of the political cycle would be a good start. Resolving homelessness requires a strategic response that transcends the annual budget and five-year electoral cycle in a similar way that climate change demands the voice of future generations be factored into the actions of this one.

From the point when cross-party support was secured in the Scottish Parliament for the measures to tackle homelessness now being rolled out across Scotland, progress has been delivered. This forward movement has exposed barriers taken root over many years, but that original cross-party support has been pivotal in achieving improvement. The pandemic has accelerated many of the plans that were already taking shape and the need for continued political pragmatism ahead of the election in 2021 is more important than ever.

That we are only now approaching the point where a more effective response is coming into view is surprising, because we know how to resolve homelessness. Multiple factors are known to improve the chances of a positive outcome for people dealing with homelessness alongside some of the hardest experiences life can throw at anyone, such as trauma, addiction and mental ill health. These success factors include an emphasis on prevention, place the person at the centre of the solution, start with a house, make sure the right support is in place to address a person’s wider support needs, plus proper collaboration between sectors, professional disciplines – and politicians.

Governments hold the multi-million-pound budgets and set the high-level intent that can make the difference. Continuing to deliver on homelessness policy that trusts in research and evidence-based interventions, with ambitious investment big enough to drive systems change, needs political will to drive the process and long-term political consensus to sustain it.

Safe As Houses, Homeless Network Scotland’s 2020 conference, takes place over three days online between Tuesday 20 and Thursday 22 October. The session, Taking the ‘P’ Out Of Homelessness, runs from 1.30pm until 3pm on Wednesday 21 October. Booking is now open, visit for details and keep up to date on twitter @homelessnetscot #SafeAsHouses

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