How much change can happen in almost eighteen years? I’ve been thinking about that a lot during my final few days working at Homeless Network Scotland. 2004, when I first joined the organisation, seems like a long time ago. Which of course it is. Clearing out my desk got me thinking about what has changed and, equally interestingly, what hasn’t.
A couple of obvious things come to mind.
In 2004 the Homelessness Task Force had not long completed its work, making a series of recommendations, many of them focused on changing the legal framework for homelessness. And for a while it felt like the sector was collectively working towards the shared priority of removing the priority need test from homelessness legislation. Wherever you were and whoever you were speaking with, the ‘2012 target’ was central to almost every conversation. Looking back, it was probably the greatest level of momentum and collective ownership I’ve experienced. And we’ll certainly need that again if Scotland is not only to create new legal duties to prevent homelessness, but to truly make them a reality for everyone who may need the extra protections.
It’s also interesting to look back on the evolution of Housing First in Scotland. From those early conversations in 2009 when very few people had heard of the model, to the position we find ourselves in 2022 where three-quarters of local authorities are delivering Housing First and over 1,000 people are benefitting from the housing and support they need. It’s a nice reminder that change does happen. But also a reminder that change can be slow and takes a considerable effort from so many people just to inch forward. And when thinking about how much is still ahead of us before Housing First truly becomes the default offer for those who need it, that sense of momentum and collective ownership will be needed here too.
It’s been a pleasure to be part of a small team working hard to change the way we think about and respond to homelessness in Scotland. I know my colleagues at Homeless Network Scotland will continue to do this alongside the rest of the sector and I look forward to seeing what they achieve next.
If I leave with any reflection, it would simply be this: always remember why you do what you do, celebrate progress along the way, and don’t lose patience as you’ll need it for the long haul.