This was the question, and all that is implied within it, that was doing circuits of logic around my mind whilst I took my seat at the signing of the West of Scotland Housing Options Hub’s protocol in Glasgow recently.
Best for whom exactly?
There is no doubt that Scottish local authorities have transformed their approach to meeting homeless people’s needs in the ten years since the Homelessness (Scotland) Act 2003 was passed.
The Act is radical in its aspirations to make Scotland a nation where everyone who loses their home unintentionally is guaranteed support from their community to find a new place to live and rebuild their life. In housing techno-jargon this is about the removal of priority need. Known as the 2012 Commitment it is about giving everyone an equal right to a home no matter their socio-economic or family circumstances.
To me, it is evidence of what a radical difference the Scottish Parliament can make to the lives of ordinary people. It should be recognised alongside the smoking ban and ending tuition fees as proud achievements of the devolution age.
The bad news however, is that unless you are a housing insider chances are you’ve never heard of it.
The good news though is that every single housing officer in Scotland has. And this brings me back to the event in Glasgow.
The 2012 Commitment has been a catalyst for improvements in Scotland’s approach to homelessness beyond the letter of the 2003 Act.
Driven by Council Chief Executives taking notice of a nationally set legal commitment, real and profound changes have been taking place.
As housing professionals in council offices face up to the challenge of increased demand for social housing from new groups of homeless people with new rights it is they who are finding new ways of reducing homelessness in the first place.
Known as Housing Options the ‘new’ big idea is that every homeless person should be treated as an individual, with their own needs and problems to tackle.
Rather than simply leaving people to linger on a waiting list, or in temporary accommodation, Housing Options aims to give them the support they need to navigate the homelessness and housing system. For example it might be about finding alternative accommodation in the private rented sector that will cause less disruption to their children’s schooling in an area that has no available social housing.
Whatever the outcome, it is all about a better outcome for the person not about helping local authorities manage their waiting lists better.
The West of Scotland Hub are the first, out of the five hubs, to set out the principles which will underpin the approach of Glasgow, Renfrewshire, East Renfrewshire, West Dunbartonshire, East Dunbartonshire, North and South Lanarkshire and Glasgow Housing Association.
At Shelter Scotland we welcome the strong commitment to prevent gatekeeping – the massaging of homeless figures by preventing people making homelessness applications rather than actually preventing homelessness.
And whilst we still have some way to go to understand and measure how successful this new approach is truly being, we welcome the current direction of travel as a seismic shift towards a more progressive approach towards treating people as individuals rather than statistics.
So is Scotland the best place to become homeless? Well of course there is no good place to experience the trauma of losing your home – but if such a tragedy were to befall me and my family I would choose the housing rights and professional services available here in Scotland over those on offer anywhere else.