Blog: The Very Best of Intentions

Homeless Network Scotland launched the first of a series of conversations that will continue through 2023. The growing pressure of the ‘permacrisis’ mobilised a wide range of voluntary action, in city centres and communities, to help people most affected. But with no benchmark or guidelines on delivering this – how can we be sure that doing good, is good enough? ‘The very best of intentions: when does good do harm?’ is intended to create the space for those that want to explore together the dilemmas and opportunities. Grant Campbell, Head of Partnerships and Consulting, welcomed over 40 people to the first conversation last week and blogs about his starting point for this big conversation.

My morning waking up routine, for more years than I can remember, has been to switch on the telly and watch Breakfast news. While probably not as productive as yoga or a morning run, it’s my routine. I’ve always felt that at the start of each day I wanted to be sighted on the news and current affairs, particularly since it can have a profound impact on the work that I do.

However, over the last couple of months something changed in my routine. I felt a genuine sense of hopelessness watching the news. Story after story leaving me more frustrated and disheartened about society. From war in Europe to fuel poverty, food insecurity, broken economy, unions striking, all part of our ‘cost of living crisis.’

To keep my sanity, I’ve switched to Channel 4 in the morning where they have reruns of ‘Cheers’. It feels a bit dated and at times it wanders into humour which shouldn’t have been acceptable in the 80’s, but it was. Anyway, it’s my escape.

Most news channels look for that ‘happy’ news story they can share each morning, and particularly over Christmas there is a search for ‘heart-warming’ stories to remind us how good people really are. There’s a focus on charitable work, the impact it has for good and how the viewing public can support it.

Take the example of those that work in and around the issue of homelessness in Scotland. While I’d argue that there is a lot of work to be done and we won’t rest until it’s ended (that’s possible by the way, but a conversation for another blog) the landscape has improved considerably. Rough sleeping figures in Glasgow and Edinburgh significantly down; evidence led work such as ‘Housing First’ becoming the norm; a prevention focus with new prevention duties; and defining what ‘unsuitable’ accommodation is and removing it from the system. We’ve seen the shift away from the need for winter night shelters with mattresses on the floor and a move to emergency welcome centres. If you want a more in-depth read into what’s changed over the last ten years here’s a journal from contributors across Scotland.

What was learned over decades is that what works for people who are homeless is what works for everyone. We all want a safe and secure home to live in, we want enough income to live, whether that’s benefits or salary, we want to be able to live, not just survive. We want to be as healthy as we can be, both physically and mentally. Finally, we want positive and supportive relationships around us.

Yet sometimes, a different approach is proposed for people who are homeless – sometimes its delivered, and sometimes it is even supported by politicians, businesses, the general public. Our new conversation series is to help cast some light on why good intentions are not enough when responding to big social challenges like poverty, social isolation and homelessness. And why, without the right knowledge and partnerships, good intentions can even cause harm.

We had a lively first conversation, with inputs from colleagues from Heriot-Watt university, Simon Community Scotland, Transform Community Development in Dundee and Help the Homeless Glasgow. We scratched the surface of the following themes, and committed to further developing each of them during 2023:

  • Why is all ‘charity’ or voluntary action portrayed as positive, even those with low-bar standards?
  • What happens when we centre the motivations of ‘givers’ over the impact on people receiving?
  • Why do people use foodbanks, on-street soup kitchens or ask passers-by for money?  What are the alternatives?
  • What do politicians do that helps – and hinders?
  • How can the third sector lead on framing the issues to discourage the use of old tropes and stereotypes?
  • How can we help voluntary action to be pioneering and trailblazing, rather than resurrecting old practices?

I find hope looking at what’s changed and a focus on what works. I think the context in a cost-of-living crisis can make this all harder – but it also raises the stakes. What we heard at the first conversation is real intention to build on what works and what matters. I hope to see you 2023 as this vital conversation develops. Contact me at to get involved.