Housing First in focus: Glasgow

From 31 tenancies in 2018 to 318 total tenancies today, Housing First has scaled up in Glasgow, providing homes with flexible support for people whose homelessness is complex and often tied up with issues including mental health and addiction.

The city’s Health and Social Care Partnership (HSCP) works successfully with Housing Associations to provide Housing First homes, with a current target of 600 tenancies.

A sample of 20 tenants shows that prior to their tenancies they made a combined 220 homelessness applications, some dating as far back as 1994 – Housing First clearly works to keep people facing overlapping disadvantage in tenancies.

Eleanor Lee, Principal Officer for Housing First at Glasgow City Health and Social Care Partnership, says the city has learned on the job and refined its processes over the last six years in the face of unprecedented pressures. Here, she sets out how the system operates to ensure people’s wellbeing needs are met.

My team consists of a team leader, senior addiction practitioner, eight assessment officers and a resource worker supporting governance.

The first step is a referral to Housing First – anyone can refer you and you can self-refer. A crucial new addition at this stage is an in-depth pre-screening of candidates, looking at their historical data on our systems.

The idea is to assess risk, look at how systems have responded to a person’s needs and trauma, what needs to happen this time to keep a person in a tenancy. A care manager has input from the start of the process. The assessment is also available across the HSPC systems, meaning applicants don’t have to repeat their story again and again.

We then link up with a Registered Social Landlord who has accepted the tenant to discuss matching their needs to a tenancy and raising any potential issues.

Successful applicants sometimes have to wait for upgrades to a void and it can be a challenge keeping them stable in temporary accommodation while they wait. But some of our tenancies have been out of this world. Low-level, great condition houses. It’s not all perfect but there’s really been an effort here to make the best offer.

A care plan is then put in place. When someone is moving into a new type of tenancy, wraparound support and building a relationship with a support worker is critical.

In Glasgow we recognise that a good relationship with a Housing Officer is important too, and they will meet the tenant before the tenancy. The tenant is more likely to flag problems if they have a rapport – say the water’s off, they might not tell their care manager or support worker.

Landlords often add in a bit extra – a starter pack, or fire-resistant bedding if a fire risk has been identified – instead of refusing housing which would have happened in the past. The aim is to prevent issues arising in the first place.

Once the tenant has moved in, six and 12-week reviews are carried out with them, in the property, to ensure they’re safe and well before we sign-off on the tenancy. They may be vulnerable to exploitation or self-harm, like cuckooing and hoarding. There is a part missing though. When your life has been chaos for 20 years you might not know how to run your home, how to keep it clean and tidy. People should have the opportunity to learn these skills before their tenancy starts.

During the tenancy, a cycle of care managers will be on board to get responses within the HSPC to things that aren’t going right – this is where a whole systems approach comes in.

There is an issue around mental health services; our shared understanding of the issues is unclear. Sometimes we’ll see a tenant struggling mentally even after a community practice nurse has said they’re fine. We’ll try to look back in whether through the adult support protection route, the care manager, a service review – whatever needs to be done.

Quite often when we start assessment people have burnt their boats with their family, and after coming into Housing First they re-establish connections.

One tenant was in the Bellgrove Hotel hostel in Glasgow for 14 years. His marriage broke down, he was separated from his wife and kids, he lost his job, was drinking heavily and had anger management issues. He now needs no support and has re-engaged with his family. He told us: “I’m not angry at life now – I’m happy with life”. Others have moved on in recovery, they’re going to university, taking courses.

The final stage is the overview. We have a weekly live caseload with updates on cases from the support organisations, and a fortnightly case management meeting to highlight concerns about tenants.

We work with the wider homelessness system in Glasgow, liaise with RSLs and provide six-monthly Scottish Government monitoring report with qualitative information about tenants, looking at their journeys rather than seeing people as numbers. Reporting includes within the GCCHSPC and to the Integrated Joint Board. There is a huge amount of governance and reporting but you need to understand how things are going.

During Covid there were no lets and we’ve not properly recovered. There’s big pressure on homelessness from leave to remain cases, from indigenous presentations, and a downturn in availability of housing. Referrals are more than double the 318 tenancies.

But looking at the statistics, of the 61 people in tenancies in 2021/22, 45 are still there, which is remarkable. You can see how the system of assessment is improving, support is improving and having an impact. It’s amazing to see.

Guest blog: supporting survivors of childhood sexual abuse to avoid repeat homelessness

Young women who have been subjected to childhood sexual abuse are more likely to end up homeless, and homeless women are more likely to suffer sexual abuse. So breaking that cycle is vital when survivors start a tenancy.

Kirsty Roebuck, formerly a Tenancy Sustainment for Survivors worker at SAY Women, sets out the issues survivors can face when accessing services and the approaches housing staff can adopt to offer the best support.

You’re waiting on a bus when a man approaches and asks for a lighter. You give him it, thank him for its return and try to avoid small talk. He asks if you’d fancy coming over for a cuppa and says you can even stay the night. Hard pass, right?

Imagine a different scenario. You’re sleeping rough. You’re cold, tired, haven’t eaten and all you want is a warm bed. A man approaches, asks for a lighter, you get chatting. He’s got a house round the corner, there’s a cuppa and a couch with your name on it if you want. Not such an easy decision…

But it’s a decision women who are homeless face regularly – weighing up their physical and mental needs while calculating the risks.

Childhood sexual abuse increases the risk of homelessness for women, whether that involves sofa surfing, sleeping rough or temporary accommodation. It can lead to poorer mental and physical health, causing difficulties holding down a job or sustaining friendships. Drugs or alcohol offer an escape but survivors risk becoming stuck in addiction, turning to prostitution to support themselves.

Childhood sexual abuse also distorts perceptions of healthy relationships. Is he that bad if he’s making sure you’ve got a roof over your head and the substances you need?

That’s kindness, right? Or is he keeping you dependent on drugs and his help to get what he wants? Most of us will have experienced break-ups but for survivors that can mean sleeping rough and facing withdrawal.

To many survivors, a housing worker can represent an authority figure – someone who can make them homeless. Survivors often cope with this power imbalance by refusing to engage.

This is why it’s important for housing staff to keep survivors’ needs at the front of their mind. Dealing with a small problem can prevent it escalating into a big problem.

So what can people in housing and homelessness services do to support survivors?

Ask the question

Asking if the young woman is a survivor can highlight areas that may require extra support. They might not be ready to disclose, but asking shows you’re willing to have those difficult conversations and are a safe person to talk to. If the person opens up, it’s fine to say you’re not qualified to provide psychological support, but you’ll help them find the right service who can.

Ensure support is readily available

Survivors of childhood sexual abuse can experience feelings of shame and low self-worth, often adding a sense of failure by asking for help. This can be avoided by offering help before it is asked for and one way to do this is by offering a planned time that allows the survivor to have a friend present, to avoid being alone with a male worker.

An alternative would be to offer to have a female worker present if maintenance work is being carried out by a male as standard. This suggests it’s not uncommon to find it difficult being alone with an unknown male maintenance worker, and structures are in place to help.

Identify vulnerabilities early

Survivors of childhood sexual abuse often seek connection, resulting in flexible boundaries and risking exploitation as others identify their tenancy as a ‘party flat’. In order for housing staff to distinguish between ‘problem tenants’ and those at risk of exploitation, identifying a survivor early in the housing process is crucial.

Give people power and control

Survivors of childhood sexual abuse who have experienced total loss of control and betrayal from those in power such as family or other adults can find the power that housing staff hold quite intimidating.

Encourage the survivor to take control by giving them options for how they want to communicate. Some people prefer face-to-face so they can read body language, others like texting so they can take their time to formulate a reply. Additionally, arranging visits at convenient times is an effective way for the survivor to take control of the tenancy, reinforcing that she controls when others are allowed access to her property.

In conclusion

Sexual violence can permeate every aspect of a person’s life, even after years of recovery and healing. Shelter is an essential and the ability to sustain this is crucial. Through recognising the needs of survivors and being able to support them in their tenancy, this breaks the cycle of homelessness and creates a brighter future for survivors.

Kirsty Roebuck

Bethany Christian Trust/Simon Community Scotland

GHIFT blog: Why I’m All in for Glasgow

All in for Glasgow is facilitated by Homeless Network Scotland to co-design a blueprint for services people in the city affected by homelessness need during the cost of living crisis and beyond.

Commissioners, service providers and people with lived experience are working together in a series of design sessions to create a service model focused on people’s needs and with fairness and equality built into it from the start. HNS Associate and Glasgow Homelessness Involvement and Feedback Team (GHIFT) member Jeremy talks about what it means to him to be involved in the programme, which was launched earlier this year.

Being asked to write this blog about All in for Glasgow made me reflect on why I got involved in this work. It’s been more than five years and I’ve seen so many changes in myself and in my role at Homeless Network Scotland.

Through my own experience of becoming homeless, I understand the many barriers people face when accessing services.

I just felt this passion and urge to get involved. I wanted to have a voice again and to hear the voices of others who are out there struggling. Basically, I’m Glaswegian and I care about the people in this city.

I started out volunteering for the first three years as a member of the Glasgow Homelessness Involvement and Feedback Team (GHIFT), which I loved as I was able to engage with people across the city who where accessing different services and give them an opportunity to have their voice heard.

A big shift happened for me when my role changed and I became an Associate of HNS, which meant I now had a worker role and was paid for any hours I worked.

Becoming a worker made a big difference to me personally, and I could see the difference it made to the relationship I had with my family, which has gone from strength to strength.

Getting this opportunity to be involved in All in for Glasgow has come at a good time for me. I feel that I’m in a good place – that really matters when you’re involved in this type of work, as you need to bring good energy and new ideas to make any kind of positive change.

Looking back on my own experience of homelessness, I’m now aware there are a lot of myths out there among the public regarding someone who is or has been homeless. This is something that I’m always challenging, and being involved with HNS gives me the space to do this.

Being involved in designing new services is really interesting, challenging and fun – sometimes that is forgotten. All of this work gives me focus and the challenge I need right now.

Working with other people who have experienced homelessness is a great learning opportunity, as people bring so many skills to the table.

Being part of All in for Glasgow will give me the chance to make sure I hold all the services to account and to reach the standard I believe people using the service deserve. People need to be listened to and it should be solutions focused.

Working with this group of people makes me feel like the future is bright for me and the people of Glasgow.

Change at top must not derail homelessness fight

The collapse of the Bute House agreement, Humza Yousaf’s abrupt resignation as First Minister and the following period of renewal and change in government are drawing attention and energy away from the urgent task of addressing the housing crisis and ending homelessness. Homeless Network Scotland’s Jamie Milne sets out what needs to happen once the dust settles.

All change then. After little more than a year in the top job Humza Yousaf resigned as First Minister and we’re in another period of uncertainty – a new FM, return to minority government, new faces around the Cabinet table making decisions that affect our lives. 

That’s politics. But these things eat up time and energy while the housing crisis deepens.  

What has not changed is rising homelessness, the 10,000 children living in temporary accommodation, the mental toll on people waiting for social or affordable homes, the desperate lives of people trapped in difficult or dangerous situations because there’s nowhere else to go. 

Politics will dominate the news in weeks to come. But beyond the headlines we have a potentially game-changing Housing Bill in the early stages of the process towards becoming law.  

Progress towards this point must not be unravelled by politics. Once the dust settles, all parties must sharpen their focus on protecting the proposals in the Bill – not least the Ask and Act measures to prevent homelessness earlier, which will stand or fall on how they are resourced. 

Reversing the £200million cut to affordable homes in the Budget must also be at the top of the new First Minister’s in-tray.  

What better way to signal a new direction than to make it easier for people to find a decent home so they can build the foundations of a life? What better way to ease housing pressures on local authorities doing their best for people in urban and rural areas? 

The cost-of-living crisis, global events and the pandemic have played their part in stoking housing pressures, but we are not powerless to solve this, as 25 years of devolution shows. 

The new First Minister can re-energise our collective effort to end homelessness by explicitly making this his top priority.  

By finding common ground and working together, all parties at Holyrood can make the Scottish Government’s ambitious plans to end homelessness and destitution a reality – and ensure this period of uncertainty does not make things worse.

Housing First helps Maxine to Transform her life

Housing First is helping a woman who struggled with addiction, trauma and physical abuse to maintain a tenancy for the first time and transform her life. Maxine has been in her Dundee flat for four years following several tenancies that failed due to abandonment, non-payment of rent or anti-social behaviour. 

During one tenancy she was cuckooed, attacked and hospitalised, and she had spells staying in a temporary hostel which caused her further physical and mental anguish. 

She moved from a hostel into a flat in 2020 with support from Transform Community Development as part of the Housing First Pathfinder it led with other local organisations from 2018 to 2021. Funds once spent on hostels are now being repurposed to develop Housing First in the city. 

Despite moving closer to her mum Maxine wasn’t confident and was sceptical about the level of support she’d get – an important factor as she has fought addiction most of her adult life and suffered trauma including the overdose death of a brother. 

But members of the now rebranded Housing Support Team ensured her flat was furnished and carpeted and helped her access the treatment at Dundee Drug & Alcohol Recovery Service, something she had difficulty in sustaining previously.  

Maxine also got help with household budgeting and was supported to be a good neighbour and attend urgent medical appointments.  

Her support level has dwindled from 20-plus hours of direct support from her Housing Support Worker each week to a couple of hours a week, and this will be stepped down to a lower-level support team in the coming months.  

But if Maxine’s needs increase, she can re-enter the Housing First programme without further assessment – showing the flexibility and participant-focused nature of the support.   

This approach also allows the Housing Support Team to reallocate support hours and free up a Housing Support Worker for a new tenant. 

Maxine has now taken up meaningful activity including engaging with a community arts programme, which has given her social connections outwith her previous network.  

The Housing Support Team works actively with over 90 people, providing innovative and intensive support to those who are homeless or threatened with homelessness. 

Transform Community Development took forward mainstreaming of Housing First in Dundee at the end of Social Bite’s involvement in the programme, using an innovative and far-sighted strategy to develop and expand the programme. 

The charity works with Dundee Health and Social Care Partnership and Dundee City Council to develop services in alignment with the local Rapid Rehousing Transition Plan.