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 grant@homelessnetwork.scot to get involved.

Staying In

All homelessness starts in a community. But not all communities are at equal risk. Homeless Network Scotland wanted to test a new approach to tackle the uneven distribution of homelessness risk, at the heart of the places most affected by it. We set about to test what happens when ‘subject experts’ collaborate with ‘local experts’ and ‘lived experience’ experts to combine knowledge, insight and problem solving at a local level. And, with thanks to the National Lottery Community fund, to understand how local investment would be targeted too. David Ramsay from Homeless Network Scotland blogs about what was designed and discovered.

Wawl, can’t believe that’s been 3 years since we launched this project. It’s been an amazing and definitively eventful time, as Covid struck just as we got the project up and running, which meant there was a delay to the project.

So let’s get back to where it all began (I think there is a song in that ).

As an organisation we have been working in local communities across Scotland promoting a placed based approach to preventing homelessness at a local level.

A placed based approach embraces a whole community and the assets that already exist in that area, so you’re right “this is not rocket science and isn’t new.” But what is new is the focus on homelessness prevention.

One question I always ask myself? Is using the language of homelessness prevention a barrier for other services out with housing to get involved in trying to protect people’s homes? If you think so, what language should we all adopt?

Homeless Network Scotland and others had a shared understanding that some of the answers to protecting people’s homes and tackling housing issues are in the community themselves, and each community is different so may need a slightly different approach. Having the flexibility to deal with the slightly changing priorities of each community is one of the main benefits to a place-based approach as the usual response is either, a local authority or national strategy.

Thankfully the National Lottery Community Fund also had the same vision as us and wanted to try and test new ways which would change culture and practice within a local setting and we were able to secure funding to test our ideas across 2 different areas in Glasgow.

We worked in partnership with Unity and Scottish Community Development Centre (SCDC) to deliver a new test-of-change in Greater Pollok and Gorbals which are both in the south of Glasgow. As this was the first time in Scotland that anyone had piloted a test-of-change focusing on prevention, I’m sure you can imagine I was full of excitement and slightly nervous as I wanted this to be a success.

Our approach was simple and not hard to replicate. First thing we did was create a panel of local people who either lived or worked in the area and who had a passion for supporting the local community. once you have a group of people who have the same objectives and goals it makes things so much easier.

Also, another valuable contribution was from the partners involved as well. This was crucial in moving the project forward at the right time. No one has all the answers (though my partner may disagree) the knowledge and expertise from Unity and SCDC really gave the approach we adopted so much more meaning. I also learned so much more about working with people which I’ll take forward onto the next project.

The Staying In project funded 6 organisations across both areas, this included housing associations, anchor organisations and small charities. The range of services varied which was a benefit to the local community. The value to the people who engaged with the organisations was simply the right support was on offer at the right time. I would like to see more people have this choice and control over who they engage with and not a one size fits all local authority response.

We want this to be rolled out across other areas, so it’ll be important that the right amount of time and support is allocated to smaller charities and organisations to fully get behind this approach. Its important everyone is involved throughout each stage of this process and buy in comes from health, criminal justice, local authorities, and Scottish Government. Everyone has a part to play in their local community and let’s do more of what working and keep people Staying In their local area if that is what they want.

The most important thing is that this programme achieved exciting things. We believe that less applications for help with homelessness were made to the local authority from both communities. We also discovered 6 key themes from this programme that we believe could be of interest to other place-based initiatives or inform local responses to homelessness – or could merit further research or development. And we have pointed to 8 key considerations for local partners.

Many thanks to everyone who was involved in this project and let’s hope this model can be replicated and rolled out across Scotland soon.

David

Read the full evaluation here.

Blog: MyBnk Youth Homelessness Prevention

As The Money House project expands to Glasgow, MyBnk Scotland Partnerships Manager Gemma Orr talks youth homelessness in the city and how money management skills can help.

MyBnk is a charity that delivers expert-led financial education programmes to 5-25 year olds in UK schools and youth organisations – directly, virtually and online. Together with young people, we have created innovative, high impact and high energy workshops that bring money to life. 

In the midst of a homelessness and cost of living crisis, research tells us one in three care leavers currently lose their first home and 83% of evictions are caused by rent arrears. MyBnk’s Money House Project works to tackle youth homelessness through developing money management skills, with only 1% of Money House graduates ever being evicted. Following the success of four award-winning projects in London, The Money House has now expanded to Glasgow’s Hope Street. 

The Money House  

The Money House is an award-winning financial education service for 16 to 25-year-olds on the pathway to social housing – specifically targeting young adults in challenging circumstances, such as those leaving care. Over a week, a trained expert in a simulated flat environment in Glasgow, teaches participants everything they need to know to keep their tenancy. It focuses on survival money management skills, understanding systems, planning for the future and reducing financial exclusion. Using games and activities, it brings money to life, clears up misconceptions and confronts bad habits and worries like debt. Courses are available both online via Zoom and in-person. 

Bringing The Money House to Glasgow 

The decision to expand this project into Glasgow was driven by the clear need in the city. In 2019-20 there were 6054 homeless applications in Glasgow, and a further 2557 households were in temporary accommodation. In Scotland more generally, 8525 youth homeless applications were made last year, around 24% of children are living in poverty and 70% of young Scots were concerned about their financial situation during the pandemic. 

Each individual facing homelessness has their own story, but the heart of the programme has stayed the same – teaching young people how to live independently and lower the risk of homelessness through prevention rather than cure. Each person facing homelessness has their own story, but the heart of the programme has stayed the same – preparing 16–25-year-olds for independence and tackling homelessness through targeted prevention, rather than waiting until young people reach crisis point. 

The challenges facing young people in Glasgow will be different to those in London, and the financial landscape certainly differs too: benefits, housing, jobs, entitlements and financial exclusion all require local knowledge. MyBnk Scotland have been delivering money workshops in schools and youth organisations since 2019 and our Glasgow-based team have local knowledge and expert training to help them bring content to life for young people in Scotland. 

Getting involved 

The Money House targets young adults about to move into social housing. Those coming on the course can be referred by a range of stakeholders, including homelessness and young adult services within councils and housing associations and charity partners such as Barnardo’s. 

If you work with young people who would benefit from attending a course or want to find out more at one of our open days, please contact TMHScotland@mybnk.org. For any questions, please contact Gemma.Orr@mybnk.org

The Money House Glasgow is funded by JP Morgan, SGN and The Quilter Foundation. 

Blog: David Kidd – diverse experiences with equal value

David Kidd is an improvement lead with Homeless Network Scotland and a member of the Glasgow Alliance to End Homelessness’ management team. Here he provides an update on the work being prioritised to ensure that people with diverse and direct experiences of homelessness have an equal decision making role in the Alliance.

The self-styled Glasgow Homelessness Involvement & Feedback Team – or GHIFT for short – are a collective of people with experiences of homelessness in Glasgow who work to represent the views and experiences of others experiencing homelessness in the city. 

When GHIFT assembled back in 2015, we set out with a goal in mind: to create a platform for people with experiences of homelessness to have an equal say in decisions and actions being taken to reduce and ultimately end homelessness in Glasgow. At the time that seemed like quite a radical idea but as the years passed, and trust was built, progress towards this goal got faster and for the last couple of years GHIFT have been doing exactly we set out to do – jointly making decisions about how homelessness services in Glasgow should work. 

For Homeless Network Scotland, this is a hugely welcome progression of our conviction that people have the right to have their opinions and perspectives heard and our commitment to creating the structures to enable that to be heard and acted on.

In Glasgow, the vehicle for this parity in decision making is called the Glasgow Alliance to End Homelessness. For anyone that doesn’t know, it is a ten-year partnership founded on unanimous decision making and an ethos of ‘Best for People’. The Alliance is between ten organisations including the HSCP, third and independent sector organisations and GHIFT. Homeless Network Scotland is part of the Alliance as a knowledge-based partner, and to centre and support the value of lived experience. The Alliance have overall responsibility for planning, delivery and transformation of services and support for those at risk of or experiencing homelessness in Glasgow with the aim of ending homelessness in Glasgow by 2030. 

It has been a couple of years now since the ink dried on the Alliance Agreement and it would be fair to say that a lot has happened during that time. 

Despite going into lockdown less than 1 month after the Alliance contract was awarded, GHIFT and the Alliance have been working hard to set up the Alliance structures, documentation, working groups, ways of working and so much more… And to begin the process of transforming the way that homelessness services in the city are delivered.  

None of this can happen in isolation though. To do it properly will need lots of support and the involvement of as many people as possible – from those using services and the services supporting them to the citizens of Glasgow themselves. Everyone has a part to play in ending homelessness. 

With that in mind, the next phase of the Alliance’s work involves working with those in the homelessness sector and beyond to develop a strategy that will drive the Alliance’s approach, direction and priorities over the coming 3 years.  As part of this, GHIFT will be running focus groups with people using homelessness services to ensure that the new strategy is directly influenced by what’s important to them. Look out for more details of these coming soon.

There are also a range of other events and activities that will inform the development of the Alliance strategy: 

  • For those working on the front lines of services within homelessness and related sectors there are Frontline Forum sessions happening on 28 September (online) and on the 5 October (in-person). You can read about GHIFT and Alliance Leadership Team member Mark’s experiences of attending previous Frontline Forums here.
  • For anyone else who has an interest in ending homelessness there are Alliance exCHANGE events happening on 22 September (in-person) and the 27 September (online). 
  • For anyone who is unable to attend these or who would like more details on how to get involved in shaping the strategy you can visit the Glasgow Alliance to End Homelessness website by clicking here

This is just the beginning though. To end homelessness will need everyone’s help and if you’ve got experience of homelessness in Glasgow and a determination for change then GHIFT needs your help too! We’ll be recruiting again soon, so to find out more about GHIFT or to add your name to our recruitment contact list – contact me at David@homelessnetwork.scot or phone 0141 420 7272./

The Social Distance Between Us by Darren McGarvey

Book review by David Pentland, Homeless Network Scotland

In the introduction of the book, Darren outlines the political landscape in the UK. He sets the scene well, with some reflections of the social distance between the Conservative government’s policies and legislation, and the aspirational needs of working-class people. He also underlines that the only thing “trickling down” in this economy is national debt, as billions of pounds are wasted in reactionary spending.

Darren begins by walking the reader though one of his own experiences of being class-profiled by the police in Glasgow. It really sets the tone, which immerses the reader in the daily struggles for people of the underclass in a battle for survival. He juxtaposes the experiences of the underclass against the experiences of a thriving upper class, awash with opportunity – a sharp critique of the notion that our society is in any way meritocratic.

There are many thought-provoking themes running throughout the book, although the main focus of this review will be on homelessness, after all it is our business! Having myself personally spent fifteen years revolving between homelessness and prison, followed by a further 20 years working in frontline service provision, Darren’s reflections, and his inclusion of lived experience, really highlight the plight of the people who slip through the cracks and suffer often punitive penalties for society’s lack of ambition around homelessness.

Darren’s movement through the homeless world highlighted a number of important issues from Edinburgh to Aberdeen: we owe it to people to get things right more often. Although the pandemic changed the face of homelessness in terms of rough sleepers, we still have too many people living in temporary accommodation and substandard accommodation, as Darren highlights. However, to say the homelessness problem is the least complex, as Darren says I would argue is a mere simplification of a very complex problem. We live in a time of multiple crises: addiction and mental health; structural obstacles in joining vital support services together; lack of affordable housing; lack of housing in areas people want to live; and refugees of war and political instability joining the ranks of ‘New Scots’, arguably leading to overpopulation in many urban areas.

The question for me always comes back to trauma: in my experience we have many people medicating trauma with psychoactive substances in the margins of our society, and no amount of policy or legislation will mitigate the impact trauma has on peoples’ lives. Add this to the demise of communities as self-sustaining entities, and throw in poor mental health, and we will continue to have a disproportionate amount of people dying on our streets and in our communities.

If ever there were a song to accompany a book, in this case it would be ‘Working Class Hero’ by John Lennon!

I will close with one example Darren did provide that was artistic in its form:

“He was frozen out by an opaque administrative maze, populated by faceless desk-killers. An organisational jigsaw puzzle where decisions with life-and-death implications are made behind a curtain of unaccountable officialdom”.

You can purchase the book here.