Emergency Legislation for a Fairer Scotland

Martin Gavin, Head of External Relations at Homeless Network Scotland blogs on the Emergency Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill being debated in parliament on 1 April 2020. Originally published in Scottish Housing News.

Homelessness is unlikely to be one of the enduring memories of this pandemic. That significant statement pays tribute to rapid action over the past two weeks by governments, landlords, councils, health services and third sector organisations in bringing people inside who were sleeping rough, and quickly putting in place additional protection for people most at risk of homelessness over the immediate next phase. Maybe our response to homelessness will be viewed by historians as one of the early success stories of how society dealt with COVID-19?

However, we are still living in the moment. With months of disruption and genuine hardship still ahead, how can a legacy be avoided that speaks of an effective response to homelessness at the start of COVID-19, and then goes on to tell how we allowed it to creep back insidiously as months went by and the immediate danger passed?

The Scottish Government has published the Emergency Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill to be considered in Parliament today, 1st April. A core part of the Bill is steps to avoid people being evicted from their homes over the coming six months, something Homeless Network Scotland and many other organisations have pressed for since the scale of the current emergency came into view.

Key elements of the Bill include the following:

  • Temporarily extending the notice period for all evictions to six months in most cases. Three months if the reason for eviction includes anti-social or criminal behaviour, or if the landlord or their family member needs to move into the property.
  • Temporarily changing private rented sector repossession cases going before the First Tier Tribunal to be considered on a discretionary basis. This gives members of the tribunal more scope to take full account of the circumstances of the tenant before reaching a decision.
  • Proceedings can carry on as normal if the tenant has abandoned the property.

It is intended that these steps support the security of renters across Scotland during the outbreak, allowing time to apply for and receive the financial support to ensure that rent can continue to be paid in the short to medium term.

It was inevitable that the pace and pattern of social housing allocations would be affected by the current emergency. With less housing turnover overall, RSLs like all workplaces, are affected by staff self-isolating, absent or remote working, impacting on the services they would normally provide.

Where this is the case we should respond with additional funding and support to enable RSLs do what they are so good at doing – providing people with the safety and security of a home. Indeed, there are examples already where small and large RSLs have implemented proactive, creative solutions to prioritise allocation of housing in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

All these actions matter because it cannot be overstated how traumatic this time is for people who are homeless or most at risk of it. Not just the relatively small numbers of people with no roof, but the thousands of people in shared spaces, hostels, B&Bs – sometimes in unfamiliar locations, cut off from loved ones or with patchy access to information. While this virus connects us all, some are left significantly more disconnected than others.

The measures in today’s emergency legislation are compassionate, fair and proportionate. They further strengthen what’s already been done to prevent rough sleeping and protect people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. Now, while still desperately seeking the right responses to an unfolding emergency like no other, in quieter moments let’s also start to think about how we keep the fairer, better Scotland we are creating – home has never been so important.

Mind the Gap: why we must prioritise prevention

David Ramsay is Change Lead at Homeless Network Scotland.

I’m sitting here at my desk in Glasgow and the weather is dreadful, I’m day-dreaming. My thoughts drift back to the many times I’ve been out in the rain with nowhere to go. These are the times I must not forget as we try to change the system that isn’t working.

I think of what I could have done differently and also what other people could have done to help.

I grew up on a housing estate on the south side of Glasgow, the early 80s with not much to do. Everyone around me was involved in some sort of trouble, either in school or with the police. This is the path I would follow.

Memories and photos are what defines the past, and how people remember the good and not so good times. The photos I don’t have are what sticks out for me. There’s a ten-year gap in my life and I feel this is a waste. Why did it happen?

Okay, where do I start…? I’ve always been a happy person and good around people. So don’t let the smile hide the hurt someone is feeling while trying to navigate this system.

I became involved with social workers from the age of 12 to 16, then I moved into the prison system until the age of 25. I became homeless at 30 due to my relationship ending, as I was struggling with my addiction again.

I couldn’t believe that becoming homeless was like going back to prison. My mental health was at rock bottom, and I couldn’t see any way out. Now I would have to fight my way through another system and all I was looking for was a house.

I had countless workers from all different health care providers without success. Why? What was being missed?

They were good people and really nice, they just never understood me or what I needed or wanted from them. They never asked me either.

I now believe they were delivering a service which had one aim – contain the issue, as long as it doesn’t get any worse it’s okay. I would rather they’d supported me to prevent things happening in the first place.

Maybe I was being offered what I needed but couldn’t see it because of all the barriers I had put up…was this worth a thought or was this my way of coping?

These barriers started to lift once I came into contact with people who believed in me, even when I didn’t believe in myself.

I became surrounded by people who encouraged me, challenged me in the right way and supported me when I needed it.

And how my life changed.

The first thing I noticed was I started to feel a part of something. I became more involved in my family, attending more family get-togethers. I was more involved with the community I lived in and I felt I had a place as a citizen of Glasgow. I felt alive for the first time and I was 38 years old.

I started volunteering with the Homeless Network with the aim of changing the current system. I can’t forget the feeling I had when I felt I was punished for not having a home.

I was in a new relationship and managed to bag myself a job after volunteering for a few years -my life was amazing.

The question is how many people are out there who are not receiving the support that is right for them and who have the ability to achieve the same as me?

When someone takes on the responsibility of a job which involves people, they must believe in themselves and others. Work with people and help them identify the strengths they have and give them the opportunity to explore themselves.

This is what happened to me and the results speak for themselves.

Employed: yes. Married: yes. And now I own my home.

Change is possible through prevention – if people are offered the right support at the right time and opportunities are available to them. Believe people can and want to change and they will believe you can help them do it.

A Curious Moment: Rapid Rehousing in Scotland

Doug Gibson is Programme Manager at Homeless Network Scotland.

There’s a saying that people overestimate what they can do in a year and underestimate what they can do in a decade.

There’s another one about how we should plan in decades, think in years, work in months, and live in days.

These may be good soundbites but they also speak to a truth, which is that a slant towards long-term planning is vital if we are going to end large-scale homelessness for good. After painstakingly drawing up five-year plans, local authorities and their partners are now underway with their transition towards rapid rehousing as the default response to homelessness.

It is a curious moment. As we arrive in the ‘20s, more and more eyes are looking to Scotland to learn from these plans and the progress being made here, while at the same time challenges continue to arise for those tasked with progressing these plans.

The changes are moving us towards permanent housing for as many people as it suits, towards a reduction in the use of costly temporary accommodation, and towards accessible and compassionate support for all who need it – to the level they need it, and for as long as they need it.

This shift – and specifically the actions within Scotland’s action plan to end homelessness and rough sleeping – will require patience and a willingness to interrogate and adapt our own processes and presumptions. We are all going to have to forgot what we think we know. It will require trust that the long-term plans are the right ones, and a shared commitment to seeing them through.

However, if the progress of 2019 is anything to go by, Scotland can look ahead to 2020 with optimism regardless of the challenges now and those still to come.

Although trends recently have been in the wrong direction with applications rising, homelessness applications have decreased 39 per cent overall since 2008/09. Five regional Housing Options Hubs have been established.

Over a third of authorities are operating Housing First to some extent, with more getting underway all the time. Assertive winter initiatives are again underway on the streets of our towns and cities to help people stay safe and warm and to further empower frontline workers.

When authorities’ five-year transition plans come to a close in 2024 new plans will be drawn up.

Homelessness will never not be an issue to some degree, but if we plan in decades and underestimate what we can do in that time then it will affect far, far fewer people when the ‘30s roll around than it does today.

Ending homelessness in Scotland – are you all in for change?

Written by Celeste, a volunteer with Homeless Network Scotland

All in for Change is a powerful collaborative development that is about to hit the ground running, bringing together people with lived experience of homelessness, frontline staff and people at government level.

This Change Team means business and will be represented on a national strategy group on homelessness chaired by the Housing Minister, Kevin Stewart MSP.

Around 20 Change Leads will build a national network of those living and working with homelessness to influence policy and strategy at a local and national level, while developing an online shared resource which will ensure everyone to keeps up to date with what is happening.

No one understands the need for change better than staff in frontline support and advice roles along with people, like me, who have experience of homelessness. With my fellow volunteers at Homeless Network Scotland, I have brought lived experience of homelessness to the table to share information, challenge current systems and effect positive change by communicating with people in different roles in the sector.

Over the last few years there has been some fantastic research conducted with people who have lived experience, which has produced insight on what the real issues are. The importance of lived experience consultation and participation in the planning and decisionmaking process is now recognised as being important at both local council and government level here in Scotland.

This is a crucial step forward as it means that collaborative teams are being formed so that decisions are made ‘with’ those who have lived experience rather than ‘for’ them. It gives people like me an additional voice, a place at the table and a key part in the decision making process. It is empowering and long overdue.

This new and high-profile team of passionate, non-judgemental, respectful and open-minded people with frontline and first-hand experience of homelessness, will lead the systems, practice and culture change we need. Well connected to people and groups across areas and services they represent, the team won’t be afraid to have the ‘difficult’ conversations needed to take control and influence policy and strategy. Team members will be challengers not ‘yes men’, they will be disruptive when necessary and passionate about making things better.

Supported by Homeless Network Scotland (formerly GHN), Cyrenians and Scottish Community Development Centre, the work is funded by Scottish Government and the Frontline Network, from St Martin-in-the-Fields. Anyone invited to be part of the team will not have to give up their day job. Drop in information and chat sessions for those interested in being part of the team are being held in Perth, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Troon. For further information and application pack please click here