I joined GHIFT in 2016 when we started planning an event in the style of a conversation cafe to understand the experiences of people using homelessness services in Glasgow, including some of the barriers and challenges they face. Most of the work I have been involved in has focussed on visiting homeless services in and around Glasgow, talking to people using these services about what works and what doesn’t, so that we can use the information to improve on the positive elements as well as trying to eradicate the negatives.
Since my initial volunteer roles within Homeless Network Scotland I have come to realise the input from people with lived experience is as valid and useful as any academic point of view, if not even more valuable because it is based on experience that comes from having been there and done that. You may have the best education money can buy, but you can’t buy that experience.
Being part of the team that helped to select the services who would become the Glasgow Alliance to End homelessness was a particularly positive experience for me. Learning about how tender processes work with GANTT charts and spreadsheets, and being part of the actual interview process was not only informative, being involved in making such a valuable contribution to ending homelessness in Glasgow has given a huge boost to my self-worth and self-esteem.
The pandemic and lockdown have been challenging as we’ve had to convert to doing almost everything online. I miss the human contact and being able to engage face to face with people to hear their stories, but with the equipment and support I need to get online being provided through Homeless Network Scotland I have managed to gain some new skills that have allowed me to continue getting involved digitally.
Working with GHIFT has helped improve and build on my skills for work as well as the opportunity to prevent other people having to go through the difficulties I had to experience when I was homelessness myself.
Making a positive impact on eradicating homelessness was my main objective for getting involved and being part of the GHIFT group has given me the perfect platform to achieve this.
For those experiencing homelessness, the idea of not knowing when they might get their own home was hard enough…and then COVID come and along halted the world, and what was already unknown became even more unknown.
The ball was already rolling on improving things in Glasgow before the pandemic: Housing First was being implemented, benefiting those most in need of extra support after being given permanent accommodation; workers and volunteers like myself were out gathering information from services and the people using them, offering advocacy to those who felt like they had no voice, speaking to people about their options and providing much-needed advice to people using homelessness services; information about our experiences of homelessness was being provided to researches who would come into the office and learn from us; and, most importantly, members of Glasgow Homelessness Involvement Feedback Team (GHIFT) with lived experience of homelessness like myself were given an equal voice and equal say as part of the Glasgow Alliance to End Homelessness.
Today, I am still lucky to be involved in many aspects of GHIFT. We hold weekly discussions (online now), providing information and opportunities that we can still be involved in. Despite the pandemic making things more difficult, our main aim – to help reduce and eventually end homelessness – is still in progress.
Through GHIFT there are lots of options for ways to get involved but I personally like the hands-on work: going out there into hotels, hostels and refuges gathering info, talking to those who perhaps haven’t had a normal conversation with someone during a time when people are already socially isolated, and working with the Glasgow Alliance to End Homelessness, the Council and other agencies to use the information we find out to improve things for everyone experiencing homelessness in Glasgow.
At the moment it’s hard to look a month ahead but I’m sure the future, post-COVID, will be bright for GHIFT and the ball will be rolling even faster than it was. I’m looking forward to being back in the office sharing a table with the rest of the team, brainstorming ideas and making sure that the voices of people with lived experiences of homelessness are included in all of the work to end homelessness in Glasgow.
Back in the 90s one of my friends had attended a homeless conferences hosted by Groundswell in London. Hearing about this grassroots movement who were advocating that change was possible, but that people experiencing homelessness had to be the vehicle of that change caught my imagination. I began to organise a speak out event in Edinburgh and simultaneously set up the Homeless Users Group Edinburgh (HUGE).
During this period of my life, my circumstances were bleak. I was starting my second decade of rough sleeping, I was using large amounts of drugs and very few services would entertain me because of the chaos and violence in my life.
The speak out event raised awareness of our radical challenge to the principles underpinning service provision in Edinburgh, but otherwise accomplished very little.
The HUGE group, on the other hand, started to work with the commissioner of homeless services at Edinburgh Council to radically overhaul hostel provision. We consulted rough sleepers across the city on the barriers they had experienced in accessing hostels. Armed with this information, the council did everything they could to recommission services, with a particular emphasis on the old Leith House which was turned into the Dunedin Harbour.
This early involvement and co-production activity gave me a sense of purpose. This led to an end to the chaos, violence and drugs in my life and, eventually, to a job.
I lived happily until becoming homeless again in 2017, which led to me connecting with Glasgow Homelessness Networks GHIFT group about a year later. At first I was sceptical that it was more of the top-down user involvement I had advocated against in the past, but when we started work on the commissioning process for the Glasgow Alliance to End Homelessness with Glasgow Health And Social Care Partnership, it became clear that this was a real opportunity to have equal input and create lasting change.
Along with other members of GHIFT, I went on to decide, as equal members of the commissioning team, who would become the Glasgow Alliance to End Homelessness. Through a lengthy process lasting nearly 6 months, but now that the Alliance is in place, I work alongside the winning group as an equal member of the Alliance Leadership Team, making decisions that will help us work towards ending homelessness in the city.
All In For Change brings together frontline workers and people with their own, personal experience of homelessness either currently or in the past putting lived experience at the heart of system change. For Co-Production Week 2020 Vicki Fox, Change Lead with All In for Change, talks about co-production in real-time and the impact it is having in shaping Scotland’s homelessness response.
Towards the end of 2019 when I saw that there was a new initiative called the All in for Change Team I just had to apply and was delighted to be successful in becoming a Change Lead. This role really appealed to me as it was made up of people with lived experience of homelessness and those who are frontline workers (many, like myself have both of these backgrounds). We also have the academics involved to give us an evidence base for our discussions. We have four pillars, or goals, to our work:
No Wrong Door
The Scottish Government described the Change Team as a group of people with frontline and personal experience of homelessness who act as a bridge between decision makers and the people affected by change*. This is true, but we are so much more than that. We are a diverse group of people each bringing our own experiences, passions and commitment to challenge the status quo and “traditional” ways of working. This can sometimes be challenging as although we mainly agree on “core” beliefs in terms of homelessness, we often have competing priorities in different scenarios. When this occurs, it is important that we have respect for each other and an open mind. Being prepared to have your opinion changed is also crucial.
During the pandemic we needed to find different ways of doing co-production and meeting as a team rather than in-person retreats. We have been meeting regularly on video conferencing. We strive to be at the top of the ladder of co-production and it is important to always have this in mind whenever we are involved with something and to challenge if we feel that we are falling short.
The Change Team has also influenced the Scottish Governments’ updated Ending Homelessness Together Action Plan, which has recently been published. In the new recommendations part of a person-centred approach is to “strengthen the role and influence of the Change Team”. Having this recognition from government is important, it signifies that our input is more than simply tokenistic.
Most recently I have been attending Everyone Home Collective meetings. We feel it is important (as do the Collective) that the voice of lived experience is represented at all levels of discussion and decision-making.
After almost 12 months working with All In For Change, we have learned a few things.
Give time and effort to recruitment – think about motivations and try to make the ask attractive. The richest conversations come from the widest perspectives. It is important not to target the “easiest” to engage but include many voices – including those hardest to reach and most marginalised.
Some might not be comfortable to contribute within a group initially (or at all) and so support may be necessary to empower and encourage.
Listen, respect others and keep an open mind.
Use a variety of methods, for example, not everyone will feel comfortable talking in a group, but it is imperative all voices are heard, not just the loudest.
Be aware of power dynamics – invisible and visible. For coproduction to work some power will ultimately need to be relinquished, otherwise participants will feel their input is tokenistic. Online meetings have gone some way in aiding this within the Change Team. When everyone is on a screen, you are not as aware of hierarchy, and there are virtual functions to facilitate contribution. In more traditional meetings it can be harder to see “an opening” to share your views.
It is important to communicate what has happened to any work coproduced i.e. if something has “informed” a strategy, in what ways has it informed it? In other words, accountability for time and energy put into coproduction.
Coproduction can be challenging – time and resources must be committed to make it work.
I believe the Change Team works and has had so many successes because communication is key to successful co-production. No one person can know everything, so by listening to each other with an open mind we can achieve the best outcomes.
All In for Change will shortly celebrate one year of helping to shape homelessness policy and practice in Scotland since it was launched in December 2019. Look out for more coverage around that time. For more information visit the Homeless Network Scotland website. *All In for Change are mentioned on p.17 of the Scottish Government’s Ending Homelessness Together Action Plan.
This new and comprehensive 90-page National Framework is for all organisations and sectors starting or scaling up Housing First in Scotland. It sets out the context in which Housing First can be successfully delivered, and should act as a guide to planning, commissioning and implementing the approach.
Importantly, section 7 provides a ‘Live Status Report’, which will monitor progress toward achieving the right conditions for Housing First to be scaled up right across Scotland, in line with local need.
Housing First should be the first response for people whose homelessness is made harder by experiences such as trauma, addictions and mental ill-health. It provides ordinary housing in an ordinary community because this, for most people, is the best option. It combines settled housing with person-centred, strengths-based and flexible support – as much and for as long as someone wants it.
Please keep an eye on Housing First Scotland website for the consultation launch this week, and on social media at @HFScotland. For more information, training or learning opportunities, or to discuss any element of the framework in more detail, please email email@example.com
Housing First Scotland belongs to everyone who is helping Housing First become the first response for people whose homelessness is compounded by experiences such as trauma, abuse, addictions and mental ill health. It has been hosted by Homeless Network Scotland since 2016.