Rock Trust takes homelessness prevention back to school with new programme

Rock Trust takes homelessness prevention back to school with new programme

Emma Carmichael, Upstream project lead; Kate Polson, Rock Trust CEO; Ben Macpherson MSP and Upstream project workers Helen Carberry and Kirsty Strange

Rock Trust has begun delivery of a schools-based homelessness prevention programme to help young people and their families before they reach crisis point.

Last year, there was a 4% increase in youth homelessness in Scotland. More than 8,000 young people were affected (Scottish Government Youth Homelessness in Scotland statistics 2022-23). In the capital, youth homelessness assessments increased by 15%, and the City of Edinburgh Council has now declared a housing emergency.

Kate Polson, Rock Trust CEO, said: “Homelessness is not inevitable, it is not a personal failure, it is a systems failure. With a drastic shortage of homes for people to move on to, prevention is more important than ever.

“We know that the single biggest cause of homelessness is relationship breakdown in the home, and that with early interventions like mediation, it is possible to prevent the worst from occurring. We have seen the results of the Upstream model in other countries, now is the time to show what is possible in Scotland, so we can turn the tide on our homelessness crisis.”

Through the method of universal screening, the Upstream Scotland model creates opportunities to identify and support vulnerable young people at risk of homelessness. The ‘universal’ nature of Upstream (involving every student in a year group or school) makes the model unique to other interventions.

It helps identify students who may not otherwise come to the attention of school staff through traditional measures (such as attendance records) or those who face barriers in accessing additional support. The concept originated in Australia where it achieved a 40% reduction in youth homelessness. It has also been adapted for use in Canada and more recently Wales by Rock Trust partners Llamau.

In practice, the programme involves the Upstream team working with participating local authorities to oversee the delivery of the universal screener in schools. They then work with the schools to ensure there are routes and access to ongoing support options (like mediation) for any young people who are identified as being at risk.

Rock Trust is initially investing donations and funding, including a generous bequest from the liquidation of Balnacraig School in Perthshire, into delivering a three-year pathfinder. Participating schools are Tynecastle High and Craigroyston Academy in Edinburgh, Bathgate Academy and St Margaret’s Academy in West Lothian, and St Kentigern’s Academy and Perth High School in Perth & Kinross.

Speaking about their involvement in Upstream, deputy head of Craigroyston Academy Claire Stewart, added: “We are really looking forward to working with the Upstream team and giving our pupils the opportunity to participate in the workshops. I think it will be invaluable for gathering information and putting necessary supports in place.”

Rock Trust is holding an ‘Introduction to Upstream’ at the Scottish Parliament on November 29th, where key partners, councillors and MSPs will find out more about the programme, with special input from Upstream Australia.

The event is being hosted by Ben Macpherson MSP for Edinburgh Northern and Leith Constituency, who said: “Housing shortages and homelessness are two of the most challenging issues in our capital city. There is a lot of work going on to improve the availability and standard of temporary accommodation and create more social housing.

“We need new ideas to help address Edinburgh’s Housing Crisis and that’s why I very much welcome the Rock Trust’s Upstream Scotland initiative. This will have a positive impact on young people, nationally as well as locally. I’m pleased to support the Rock Trust and look forward to seeing the meaningful impact this will have.”

Upstream Scotland will be externally evaluated by Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick & Dr Janice Blenkinsopp of I-SPHERE, Heriot-Watt University, and Professor Pete Mackie & Dr Ian Thomas of Cardiff University. It is Rock Trust’s intention to ultimately expand the programme beyond these regions and support a national roll-out.

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