Housing First is part of the solution

Minister for Drugs Policy, Angela Constance MSP, delivered a keynote address at the ‘Branching Out’ Housing First Scotland conference today (Wednesday 24 March) organised by Homeless Network Scotland. The past week has seen a tranche of funding announced comprising separate funds worth a total of £18 million to improve drugs services. The Minister affirms the connection between Housing First and Drugs Policy in this exclusive article.

Housing First supports people with kindness and compassion, in their own homes, for as long as they require that support and in a way that meets their needs. The success of the Housing First Scotland Pathfinder, supported directly by the Scottish Government with up to £6.5m of additional funding for local councils to implement their own programmes, shows us that Housing First works as a way of ending homelessness for around 90 per cent of tenants. Since launching two years ago the Pathfinder has created more than 450 tenancies, with February seeing 32 new tenants move into a home of their own.

It is the most widely evidenced homeless intervention we have, which lines up Housing First as a critical tool in reducing the harm and chaos caused by addiction so often experienced by people with the toughest homelessness journey. The support plans included with Housing First are a critical part of the policy. They build on people’s strengths and aspirations, and while the ambition is to enable people to address issues, there is an understanding that this takes time and care. Abstinence is not mandatory and progress is not a straight line.

Supporting people with multiple needs beyond homelessness, Housing First often works to reduce harm from substance misuse, including accessing treatment. As reflected in the Housing to 2040 vision published last week, Housing First is already an integral part of this government’s housing policy and I see it as an important factor in reducing harm caused by drugs.

In the past week I have announced additional funding for drug services. Four schemes planned to start in May are part of the additional £250 million already announced by the First Minister to tackle drug deaths.  

Among the measures announced were:

·       a £5 million Communities Fund

·       a £5 million Improvement Fund

·       a £3 million Families and Children Fund

·       £5 million Recovery Fund fund

The Scottish Government has also committed to a £5 million recovery and rehabilitation fund to provide additional capacity and to support people financially through that process. Because of a lack of clarity around Housing Benefit, which is reserved to the UK Government, some councils do not allow people to retain tenancies funded by Housing Benefit while in residential rehabilitation. We cannot ask people to make an impossible choice between their tenancy and their recovery journey, so the fund will ensure that people no longer have to.

We recognise that residential rehabilitation may not be the right choice for everyone and our plans therefore include allowing people to access treatment in a setting and at a time that meets their needs.

The success of the Housing First pilot in Glasgow in 2010, underpinned by a wealth of international evidence, has informed the Pathfinder programme in Aberdeen/Aberdeenshire, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Stirling, and Housing First is now making a real difference across Scotland.

Housing First has a central role in reducing harm caused by drugs and supporting recovery by providing a safe space, a normal, settled home from where people can start to build and live their lives.