Back in the 90s one of my friends had attended a homeless conferences hosted by Groundswell in London. Hearing about this grassroots movement who were advocating that change was possible, but that people experiencing homelessness had to be the vehicle of that change caught my imagination. I began to organise a speak out event in Edinburgh and simultaneously set up the Homeless Users Group Edinburgh (HUGE).
During this period of my life, my circumstances were bleak. I was starting my second decade of rough sleeping, I was using large amounts of drugs and very few services would entertain me because of the chaos and violence in my life.
The speak out event raised awareness of our radical challenge to the principles underpinning service provision in Edinburgh, but otherwise accomplished very little.
The HUGE group, on the other hand, started to work with the commissioner of homeless services at Edinburgh Council to radically overhaul hostel provision. We consulted rough sleepers across the city on the barriers they had experienced in accessing hostels. Armed with this information, the council did everything they could to recommission services, with a particular emphasis on the old Leith House which was turned into the Dunedin Harbour.
This early involvement and co-production activity gave me a sense of purpose. This led to an end to the chaos, violence and drugs in my life and, eventually, to a job.
I lived happily until becoming homeless again in 2017, which led to me connecting with Glasgow Homelessness Networks GHIFT group about a year later. At first I was sceptical that it was more of the top-down user involvement I had advocated against in the past, but when we started work on the commissioning process for the Glasgow Alliance to End Homelessness with Glasgow Health And Social Care Partnership, it became clear that this was a real opportunity to have equal input and create lasting change.
Along with other members of GHIFT, I went on to decide, as equal members of the commissioning team, who would become the Glasgow Alliance to End Homelessness. Through a lengthy process lasting nearly 6 months, but now that the Alliance is in place, I work alongside the winning group as an equal member of the Alliance Leadership Team, making decisions that will help us work towards ending homelessness in the city.