Preventing homelessness could start at primary school

Routinely talking to primary school children about homelessness could prevent such problems later in life, according to the Homeless Network.

Preventing homelessness could start at primary school

The Homeless Network is due to hold its annual conference in Glasgow on Tuesday 8th October.

At the conference, more than 250 delegates will hear from speakers who were formerly homeless, as well as academics, health professionals and housing providers that policies to tackle the problem will have more impact if preventing homelessness is embedded in our local communities, schools, workplaces and public services.

Those unable to attend can use the hashtag #prioritiseprevention to join in the debate throughout the day.

Through personal testimony, question and answer sessions, workshops and knowledge-sharing the event will explore and identify early opportunities to prevent homelessness long before it occurs.

The conference will be addressed by Kevin Stewart MSP, minister for local government housing and planning, who will take part in a two-way question and answer session, with Mr Stewart asking delegates questions, as well as answering questions from the floor.

Contributions from Sir Harry Burns, professor of Global Public Health at Strathclyde University, Sally Thomas, chief executive of the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations and Bill Scott, chair of Scotland’s new Poverty and Inequality Commission, will form part of the morning session, chaired by writer and broadcaster, Stuart Cosgrove.

Opening the conference, David Ramsay, change lead with the Homeless Network, will talk about his own homelessness, which came about after spending time in prison following a chaotic adolescence.

Mr Ramsay said: “There’s a gap in my life between an ordinary working-class childhood in Glasgow and around 10 years ago. Today I have a home, a job and a family but in my 20s and 30s I was all over the place and ended up in prison. After I became homeless, I saw for myself how the system results in people being trapped in a cycle of unsettled temporary accommodation, substance abuse and a lack of control. That ‘gap’ in my life is captured by the absence of any photographs of me for more than 15 years. It was as if I disappeared and then came back.”

He added: “I see now there were loads of opportunities for someone to step in and give me the direction I needed and the tools to help me change my life. These occurred in my family environment, primary and secondary school, the NHS and even in prison. We are individually responsible for our own future, but young people need guidance at that critical point in life. By the time I became homeless it was too late.

“I believe most people want to help, we should strive to make preventing homelessness part of every community and workplace. The good work being done in Scotland to get people out of the system and into a home will have even more impact when we reduce the number of people coming into it.”

Maggie Brunjes, chief executive of the Homeless Network, said: “The risk of becoming homeless sits heavily with people who are least able to shield themselves from it, especially if there is little cash coming in or no savings in the background.”

She added: “Many of us are able to take for granted all the benefits that having a safe, secure and stable home has on every other part of our life. We need to help strengthen this expectation earlier in schools and across all our communities, with services centred on the strengths and aspirations of people, families and communities, not divided into our needs and problems. All the evidence tells us how predictable homelessness is.”

Ms Brunjes continued: “I hope this conference will bring into focus how that knowledge should make us even more resolute that we can prevent it from happening at all.”

The event partner for 2019 is Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) with additional sponsorship from Crisis, the National Lottery, Salvation Army and Simon Community Scotland.

Sally Thomas, chief executive of SFHA, said: “We are really pleased to be the conference partner. Providing homes and support for those most in need continues to be at the heart of what social housing providers do. With homelessness on the rise, the need for collaborative working, with long-term strategic thinking has never been more important”.

Stuart Cosgrove, writer and broadcaster, chairs this year’s conference. He said: “When I was asked to take part by the Homeless Network, I was forced to challenge my own ideas. Like many, I believed that homelessness was an intractable problem, too ingrained to ever be solved. However, with the right approach that may not be the case. I also recognise the burning need to stop people from becoming homeless in the first place. That starts early, well before someone is at risk. This conference is about identifying opportunities that exist to prevent homelessness in those communities most at risk.”

Bookings to attend the conference can be made here and places are free to anyone who is currently experiencing homelessness or is unwaged / not employed.

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