The future for Shared Spaces

Claire Frew, Homeless Network Scotland

Since I joined the sector in 2004, congregate supported accommodation has played a big part in our common responses to homelessness. While some of the provision has changed over time, questions about its purpose as a response to homelessness, as well as its advantages and disadvantages, have remained. The policy shift to a nationwide focus on Rapid Rehousing and Housing First is the first time I really remember fundamental questions being asked about what we are trying to accomplish.

This new policy agenda has seen our efforts focused firmly on providing people with their own safe, secure homes as quickly as possible. And through Housing First this includes people who experience homelessness alongside trauma, mental ill health, and substance misuse; people who might otherwise have been spending time, sometimes long periods of time, in supported accommodation. As we continue to deliver rapid access to mainstream housing and, based on Housing First principles we reject the belief that people need to spend time in supported accommodation to become ‘housing-ready’, we were pleased to bring the sector together to think through what we offer to the small number of people whose needs cannot be met in mainstream housing, even with Housing First support.

The Shared Spaces research project offered an opportunity for us to start asking some big and challenging questions, knowing that while we might not always be able to answer them definitively, that we’d at least move a step forward. The research fieldwork took place during 2021 and at Homeless Network Scotland we offered as many opportunities as we could for people to come together to ask questions and share their views. As always, the position we have reached today is stronger because of the sheer number of people who took the time to get involved.

So what did the research find?

That the common circumstances where mainstream housing may not be possible or preferable are when people have a range of overlapping needs such as mental ill health, physical or learning disability, and experience of criminal justice. This is linked to the recent interim evaluation of Scotland’s Housing First Pathfinder which found that Housing First is not successful for people who lack the capacity to understand the terms of tenancy agreements, people who have very high healthcare needs, and people who don’t want Housing First.

That key features of supported housing include that it is self-contained, maximises security of tenure as a settled rather than temporary housing option, has a culture of rights and independence, offers skilled and flexible support, is delivered in a core & cluster model, is small, and is integrated in the community

That in terms of scale it is estimated that between 2% and 5% of people assessed as homeless would benefit from this type of settled housing option. This would be equivalent to 550 to 1400 people nationally.

In response to the research findings, our next task is to develop a transformation programme that moves us away from shared, supported accommodation to meet temporary accommodation duties, toward health and social care led supported housing as a settled housing option for a small number of people using homelessness services who need or want long term care on-site.

This will require significant thinking about the role of Health and Social Care Partnerships, resources, and commissioning. But it’s the next part of the transition to rapid rehousing that we look forward to completing.

Home is Where Your House Is

Professor Ruth Chang is Chair and Professor of Jurisprudence at the University of Oxford and a Professorial Fellow at University College, Oxford. Professor Chang will speak at this year’s Scottish Homelessness Conference about choice and commitment in housing policy.

George Bernard Shaw said, “Life isn’t about finding yourself; it’s about creating yourself.” This ability to create ourselves is what makes us distinctively human. Having a home, a place where one can live, laugh, and learn, is a sine qua non of the possibility of self-creation. You may make yourself into a loving parent who spends her days helping those in need, while I may make myself into someone who tries to nurture the next generation of thinkers grappling with foundational questions about the human condition. We make ourselves who we are from the spaces of safety and security that we call ‘home’. Without a home to call our own, the spark of self-creation inside each of us is smothered by precarity and fear.

Our governments and social institutions don’t have an obligation to provide each of us with a home in this deep sense. They couldn’t because homes are made by us, not for us. But we cannot make homes without houses, safe places where we can shelter and separate ourselves from the rest of humanity. Home is where your house is. And it is here that the work of organisations focusing on housing those in need is profoundly vital.

The work that you do is not easy. You may find yourself overwhelmed by the complexity of factors and the uncertainty of outcomes that accompany every decision you face. You must juggle the preferences of users for a certain type of accommodation and location against the scarcity of supply and risk of harm to users and their neighbours, all while navigating rigid, byzantine governmental systems seemingly designed to thwart your aims and good intentions. In such hard choices, the factors that determine what you should choose fail to come together to favour one path over the others. And so how can you make wise decisions when mired in such complexity and uncertainty?

Social science offers one answer. Many economists, business managers and policy wonks maintain that hard choices about housing, health, and employment – the basics of human existence – can be made simple by applying a numerical formula or algorithm to the problem. Assign numbers to each of the factors in choice and add up how well each alternative fares on each factor; the option with the highest score wins. This numerical approach to decision-making has a long history and is now established in many government agencies as unquestioned orthodoxy.

But the social-scientific model is deeply problematic. For one thing, it assumes that what is at stake in hard choices can always be numerically represented. Can you really assign a numerical value to the safety and security that housing provides? What about the value of dignity and the capacity to make oneself into one kind of person rather than another? For another thing, it fails to respect the nature of hard choices; hard choices are ones in which the relevant factors don’t come together to determine a single, right thing to do. Adding up numerical representations of the competing interests at stake presumes otherwise. So, the social scientific model crams a messy reality into a neat mathematical box, thereby distorting how things are on the ground.

We must instead recognize that sometimes in life, we are faced with choices in which there is no right answer. In such hard decisions, our reasons to choose one path over another run out. This does not mean that we can’t make a wise choice; it only means that the world has left what to do up to us. So we should commit. And make reasons for yourself. In the hard decisions we make, there is no right answer. Instead, there is only what we can commit to doing.

If you must weigh the less-than-desirable type and location of housing against the imminent availability for the user, how do you assign weights to the factors? Housing decisions are not mathematical problems, but distinctively human ones. Sometimes weighing factors will be easy; if the type and location is close to perfect but not quite and the lead time to desired housing is otherwise decades away, one should probably just go with the close-to-perfect option. But rarely are choices easy in this way. Instead, the choice is often between immediate availability of less desirable housing in a location that appears somewhat sketchy, on the one hand, and a long and uncertain wait for only some probability of success in meeting user desires, on the other.

In such hard choices, the reasons to choose one option over the other have run out, and all you can do is to make new reasons for yourself by committing – really committing – to one option over the other. By committing to one option over another, you make yourself into the kind of person who has more reason to pursue that option. Someone else may commit differently. In this way, hard choices are themselves opportunities for self-creation.

ends

Scotland’s annual conference looking in detail at the causes of and solutions to homelessness takes place from 5 – 7 October, presented by Homeless Network Scotland. This year’s theme is choice, covering topics from the housing we want to live in, to the area we want to settle and the support we want to tap into as Covid continues to have an impact on housing supply, allocations and support services for those already in tenancies. More information and booking here.

A new era for All In For Change as 14 new members join

Ginny Cooper, Change Lead at Homeless Network Scotland.

This week we welcomed 14 new members to the Change Team. As I hovered my mouse over the ‘Admit all’ button in our Teams virtual meeting I couldn’t help but feel a little apprehensive. Before everything went online, we would make people feel welcome through eye contact, body language and offering them a cup of tea. On screen it is much harder to gage how people are feeling. But, as the new faces began to pop up on my screen, smiles and awkward waves were exchanged and I knew I didn’t have anything to worry about.

All in for Change is led by a Change Team of people from across Scotland committed to ending homelessness. Every Change Lead brings unique knowledge to the team. Experts in what homelessness looks like within their networks for the people who are most affected, they bridge the gap between policy, planning and action on the ground.

The team was formed in December 2019 and had only just got established when the pandemic changed everything. After a busy 18 months the Change Team continue to play a major part in helping shape homelessness policy and practice, including the Scottish Government’s updated Ending Homelessness Together Action Plan.

The team use clear language and an open and accessible, collaborative working approach to bridge the gap between decision makers, people working in services and people making use of services, as part of a joined-up effort to end homelessness in Scotland.

As with any coproduction process, the group have embraced their different perspectives and experiences and have been ironing out the details as the programme evolves. But few could have predicted just how flexible the team would become – adapting to remote working online, taking on fast moving and rapidly evolving priorities caused by the pandemic.

Over the summer, and as part of the All in for Change (AIFC) programme, the Change Team has been talking to people from across Scotland to learn from their experiences as part of a national conversation. People who see how decisions made around homelessness look in everyday life. People who want to share how they think change can really happen. Responses will feed into a report presented to the Scottish Government.

To get involved in the national conversation simply complete an online survey here, download our starter conversation here or sign up for one of our interactive workshops, the next one is 11 August and you can sign up here.​

Comment: no evictions to nowhere

Claire Frew, Policy and Impact Manager at Homeless Network Scotland, comments on the current discussions on evictions and the urgency needed to prevent evictions in homelessness.

Emergency legislation to prevent the enforcement of evictions during the pandemic has played a vital role in protecting people’s homes – and may at least in part have contributed to the reduction in homelessness applications reported during the first year of lockdown. 

As circumstances change and restrictions start to lift, partners who came together on this issue in response to the public health emergency are now setting out what is needed in the longer term. 

SFHA in a recent report encourage that the pre-pandemic process on evictions needs returned to, that housing associations always arrange payment plans for tenants in rent arrears and will not evict someone who has agreed to, and is meeting, the terms of such an agreement. On the other hand, there are also strong arguments being made for an extension to the pause on evictions; that people’s homes should be protected while there is any level of pandemic restriction in Scotland. 

For Homeless Network Scotland, the route forward is clear – under no circumstances should anyone in Scotland be evicted with nowhere to go. That has always been disproportionate, serves no purpose and achieves no gain. This is also a central pillar of Everyone Home, the collective of 35 third and academic sector organisations. We need the focus of the current conversation on evictions to shift there, and urgently. 

The most common reason for eviction is rent arrears. The Scottish Government recently announced a £10m fund, grants, not loans, to support tenants who have fallen into rent arrears as a direct result of COVID-19. While the details are still to be worked up, this is welcome. Getting cash directly to people can stop evictions quickly and decisively. It must be directed to prevent evictions and to reset the counter on any stage of the eviction process that the household was at. 

We want to encourage confidence – and evidence – that housing associations will never evict someone who has agreed to, and is meeting, the conditions of rent payment plans. And with more support for housing associations, councils and tenants to deliver that. 

And importantly, we want more value given to the benefits of early intervention and the value of keeping people in their homes where possible. This outcome can be achieved through a proactive housing management approach focused on earlier intervention, with independent advice, information and advocacy for tenants and resources in place to ensure we do not return to a situation where people are being turned away or moved on without accommodation.  

The SFHA report acknowledges the benefits of early intervention and the value of keeping people in their homes where possible. To follow on from this, SFHA – in partnership with Homeless Network Scotland, Crisis and Simon Community Scotland – are inviting bids from housing specialists to research, consult and create a practical resource to assist social housing providers to protect homes, prevent eviction, maximise tenancy sustainment and prevent homelessness in Scotland.  

More information from the SFHA website here: www.sfha.co.uk/jobs-online/tenders 

Housing First is part of the solution

Minister for Drugs Policy, Angela Constance MSP, delivered a keynote address at the ‘Branching Out’ Housing First Scotland conference today (Wednesday 24 March) organised by Homeless Network Scotland. The past week has seen a tranche of funding announced comprising separate funds worth a total of £18 million to improve drugs services. The Minister affirms the connection between Housing First and Drugs Policy in this exclusive article.

Housing First supports people with kindness and compassion, in their own homes, for as long as they require that support and in a way that meets their needs. The success of the Housing First Scotland Pathfinder, supported directly by the Scottish Government with up to £6.5m of additional funding for local councils to implement their own programmes, shows us that Housing First works as a way of ending homelessness for around 90 per cent of tenants. Since launching two years ago the Pathfinder has created more than 450 tenancies, with February seeing 32 new tenants move into a home of their own.

It is the most widely evidenced homeless intervention we have, which lines up Housing First as a critical tool in reducing the harm and chaos caused by addiction so often experienced by people with the toughest homelessness journey. The support plans included with Housing First are a critical part of the policy. They build on people’s strengths and aspirations, and while the ambition is to enable people to address issues, there is an understanding that this takes time and care. Abstinence is not mandatory and progress is not a straight line.

Supporting people with multiple needs beyond homelessness, Housing First often works to reduce harm from substance misuse, including accessing treatment. As reflected in the Housing to 2040 vision published last week, Housing First is already an integral part of this government’s housing policy and I see it as an important factor in reducing harm caused by drugs.

In the past week I have announced additional funding for drug services. Four schemes planned to start in May are part of the additional £250 million already announced by the First Minister to tackle drug deaths.  

Among the measures announced were:

·       a £5 million Communities Fund

·       a £5 million Improvement Fund

·       a £3 million Families and Children Fund

·       £5 million Recovery Fund fund

The Scottish Government has also committed to a £5 million recovery and rehabilitation fund to provide additional capacity and to support people financially through that process. Because of a lack of clarity around Housing Benefit, which is reserved to the UK Government, some councils do not allow people to retain tenancies funded by Housing Benefit while in residential rehabilitation. We cannot ask people to make an impossible choice between their tenancy and their recovery journey, so the fund will ensure that people no longer have to.

We recognise that residential rehabilitation may not be the right choice for everyone and our plans therefore include allowing people to access treatment in a setting and at a time that meets their needs.

The success of the Housing First pilot in Glasgow in 2010, underpinned by a wealth of international evidence, has informed the Pathfinder programme in Aberdeen/Aberdeenshire, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Stirling, and Housing First is now making a real difference across Scotland.

Housing First has a central role in reducing harm caused by drugs and supporting recovery by providing a safe space, a normal, settled home from where people can start to build and live their lives.