Housing

Homelessness in Scotland programme reaches landmark figure despite lockdown

Housing First Scotland has now created over 250 tenancies for homeless people with work – including 16 in March despite the coronavirus lockdown

Scotland’s Housing First programme successfully continued its work to end homelessness in Scotland in March despite the challenges presented by the coronavirus lockdown, new figures show.

The programme – which aims to help the homeless people of Scotland by providing housing as a first rather than last step – created 16 tenancies in March, it was revealed today. This puts the total number of tenancies created by the Housing First Scotland Pathfinder programme at 252.

In addition to creating tenancies, the programme – which has local consortiums in Dundee, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Stirling and Aberdeen – also offers tailored support for homeless people with complex needs resulting from experiences such as trauma, abuse, addiction and mental ill health.

Addressing the landmark figure, Sir Andrew Cubie, Chair of the Housing First Scotland Advisory Group, said: “In these most testing of days it is hard to come across many glimmers of hope, but in the Housing First Scotland Pathfinder Programme we have a bright light.

“Through an effective and respectful partnership of many, it is great to note that more than 250 people have now moved into a safe, secure home of their own since the beginning of the Programme.”

The achievement is particularly impressive in the face of the unprecedented challenges presented by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. In line with lockdown guidelines, support has shifted to remote as default, with decisions regarding home visits made on a case-by-case basis.

Staff have also been working hard to provide additional support during lockdown, monitoring vulnerable health groups and delivering food, medication and mobile phones where needed.

Doug Gibson, Programme Manager for the Housing First Pathfinder at Homeless Network Scotland, also praised the efforts of all involved at a time when, he noted, “home has never been more important.”

He said: The fact that tenancies continue to grow is both impressive and uplifting given the disruption experienced by charities and care providers over the past couple of months, most of whom are frontline service providers as well as members of one of the five local Housing First consortia.

“On behalf of all partners, as well as our new and existing tenants, I want to thank all of those involved in delivering Housing First for their work to make sure even more people can stay at home.”

He also looked to the future, calling the coronavirus pandemic a “stress test” on the Housing First Scotland programme but reaffirming its commitment to helping people out of homelessness during the crisis.

He said: “Scottish Government advice indicates that where practical barriers can be overcome and safety maintained, going ahead with allocations during the pandemic will make properties available for people in extreme need. We are hopeful that progress can still be made.

“It’s hard to say what the eventual impact of Covid-19 will be on Housing First, this is a ‘stress test’ on the programme like nothing we could have imagined. But it will be a priority in the coming weeks and months to ensure Housing First continues to engage with and support those who have yet to move out of homelessness.”

In 2018 social enterprise Social Bite opened its own Housing First-focused village [pictured] to get rough sleepers into homes with secure long-term tenancies.

Last month the government wrote to councils’ homelessness managers and rough sleeping co-ordinators asking them to move homeless people off the streets and into accommodation in light of the public health emergency. Some Big Issue vendors, like Donny Hilton, have benefited from the scheme.

However there has been no commitment from the government to push continued housing for homeless people once the pandemic passes.

It’s something Housing First services say is crucial to ensure thousands are not sent back to the streets, with experts calling for longer-term thinking. Charity Homeless Link oversees the scheme in England and continues to try to help people into housing despite the lockdown. They’ve been advising others in the sector on how to provide support remotely, adhering to social distancing rules without removing their important work from vulnerable people, whether they have or have not been housed.

In Brighton, the housing first service has been providing up to 600 meals a day for rough sleepers self-isolating in the accommodation provided to them during the pandemic.

The Big Issue has previously championed the Housing First approach as a means of preventing people from getting stuck in costly cycle of dependency. Last Christmas, ex-rough sleeper Christopher Middlemass invited us into his home to show how the scheme had helped him turn his life around.

And in 2017, a report on the strategy commissioned by the charity Crisis showed that the strategy could deliver massive savings for government shelling out billions on the housing benefit-dependent hostel system.

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