Homelessness: a public health emergency

Scotland’s Housing First Conference takes place on Thursday 31 March in person once again and highlights conditions needed across health, housing, justice and social care to ensure that Housing First is successful as it scales up in most Scottish council areas. 

Firmly established as national policy in 2018, by the conference 27 Scottish council areas will have embedded Housing First locally, providing ordinary, settled housing as a first response to redress disadvantage and for people whose homelessness is made harder by experiences such as trauma, mental ill-health or addiction. 

This year’s conference will ask the question, ‘If Housing First is ‘here to stay’ in Scotland, how can health and social care step up to this challenge – as joint planners, commissioners and service providers?’  

According to pivotal studies, better coordination and case management is needed to reduce a siloed approach and to respond more effectively to severe and multiple disadvantage in Scotland. The Hard Edges Scotland study has been influential in evidencing the scale and overlapping nature of disadvantage in Scotland and in understanding the impact on people when services and sectors operate side-by-side, in silos – while often interacting with the same people. 

Callum Chomczuk, National Director of Chartered Institute of Housing said: 

“We all need a home, and yet we have historically put-up barriers to prevent helping those most in need from accessing secure, stable accommodation. Housing First, as a core component of our approach to Rapid Rehousing, is part of the solution. This service, which literally puts housing first, gives people a secure, stable home and builds care and support services around that person’s needs. Across Scotland today, we have seen Housing First helping those with some of the most acute support needs. This is to be applauded, but while the £50 million Ending Homelessness Together Fund has been welcome, the uncertainty of short-term funding awards has made it difficult to plan transformational change and to recruit and retain staff, including introducing or expanding Housing First projects. The Scottish Government must provide longer term funding certainty if local authorities are to achieve the ambitions set out in RRTPs.” 

Recent work by the Centre for Social Justice shows that while there is an annual cost of £9,600 for an average Housing First tenant, we can expect to save £15,000 across services in relation to justice, addictions, mental health and homelessness.  

Maggie Brünjes, Chief Executive of Homeless Network Scotland said: 

“Scotland’s health and social care services are at the heart of putting Housing First across Scotland. Different services and sectors are often supporting the same people – health and social care, homelessness charities, community justice and councils’ housing departments. The evidence shows that coordinating this care around a safe and secure home is better for people and more cost-effective too.”  

The latest Scottish Government data shows that an estimated 1,031 Housing First tenancies had started across Scotland as of 31 December 2021. Scotland’s Housing First Pathfinder in Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Stirling was designed to be a litmus test for how Housing First could scale up across Scotland’s councils.  

The conference will mark its culmination after three years, drawing out and incorporating into the conference programme key learning and knowledge from the Housing First Pathfinder Evaluation: First Interim Report, published in 2021 by I-SPHERE at Heriot Watt University. 

Professor Sarah Johnsen from I-SPHERE, said:  

“The Interim report was an opportunity to examine in detail key outcomes and learning experienced by providers and tenants during the Pathfinder. Everything we now know and have learned from the Pathfinder will feed into the scaling up taking place in councils across the country. Scotland’s Housing First Pathfinder has been laying the track for a national programme to make sure people with the toughest homelessness experiences receive the support they want and need.” 

Book tickets on the Housing First Scotland website here and sponsorship / exhibitor packages are available to suit a range of budgets and requirements. Please email hello@homelessnetwork.scot to discuss or browse the right option for your organisation here. Follow on Twitter #HeretoStay