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It’s now time for action to tackle homelessness

Today the Local Government and Communities Committee, published its report culminating 11 months of inquiry into homelessness in Scotland.

The inquiry received 64 written responses to its call for views, has seen six oral evidence sessions, and most importantly it held an evidence session with six individuals with experience of homelessness, including four people who continued to work alongside Shelter Scotland after their homelessness ended.  The report has a similarly broad focus and is a comprehensive and welcome report.

Key recommendations include;

  • Statutory standards set for temporary accommodation
  • That the Code of Guidance on homelessness is reviewed and updated
  • The exploration of a new “Scottish-style” Housing First model
  • Seeking reassurance that Housing Options guidance has been implemented properly and that gatekeeping is being tackled

We are delighted to see recommendations made on many issues which Shelter Scotland is regularly approached by the public for help and on which we have campaigned for change for many years.

We particularly welcome the recognition that temporary accommodation in Scotland can at times be of poor quality, unsuitable, expensive and ineffective, as this is the reality that many Shelter Scotland clients have to endure for months on end.

The recommendation that statutory standards on temporary accommodation should apply across the board is long overdue and badly needed. Temporary accommodation usage is rising, especially for families with children, as we have been monitoring for several years, and it is crucial that the accommodation provided is good quality, cost-effective, close to support networks and ceases to be the limbo it currently is.

Linked to this, the Committee highlighted its concerns that the current Code of Guidance for homelessness has not been updated since 2005 and correctly identified that this may be leading to people facing barriers to accessing temporary accommodation. This is a relatively simple yet extremely effective change that would ensure parity of practice and something that Shelter Scotland has long been asking for, most recently in our Far From Fixed campaign.

Shelter Scotland has long been supportive of the core principles and aims of the Housing First model and its core principles, in that it can provide an effective response to homelessness for people who have multiple and complex needs. However, we feel that Housing First will require a wholesale change of approach from all partners in the homelessness sector if it is to be successful. Additionally, it is important to consider how this will interact with existing legislation and rights and how councils that are already struggling to meet current statutory duties will be supported to meet this ambition. Without more detail on this aspect, there is a risk of unintended consequences and making our existing system even more complex for those trying to navigate it at a point of vulnerability in their lives.

As the Committee says, Housing First is an important part of the jigsaw. We need to make sure the rest of the pieces are in place to ensure this works, and ensure that its shape fits with the rest of our world-leading legislation. We must deliver, in practice, an effective service for individuals with appropriate and timely support to help people out of homelessness and into a safe and secure home.

The Committee’s recognition of gatekeeping and its call for the Scottish Government to combat the practice is particularly significant. Gatekeeping was identified as a problem by several respondents to the inquiry, especially those who had experienced homelessness, and we are pleased to see that these concerns are being taken into account. This recommendation comes shortly after the BBC recently carried out an investigation on gatekeeping and it is encouraging that this long-standing issue is finally gaining traction and recognition. We hope that decisive action is now taken so that nobody faces barriers to accessing the homelessness services which they have a right to.

This report is not coming into a vacuum.  The Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group, (HARSAG), on which our Deputy Director Alison Watson sits, will report its recommendations on how we can end rough sleeping, how we can transform the use of temporary accommodation, and what needs to be done to end homelessness, all by late Spring 2018. Many of the LG&C Committee’s recommendations call for further action and recommendations from the HARSAG and we hope that the Action Group heeds these calls and factor them in to their final recommendations.

The priority, now, is that this report and its recommendations are turned into action. Homelessness is far from fixed, but we know what needs to get done – it’s time to get on and do it.