Remembering Marion Gibbs

Remembering Marion Gibbs who died on 7 December 2022

Marion was at the very centre of Scotland’s housing sector. For over 30 years, her life’s work was focused on those in the most housing need; people affected by homelessness, overcrowding and those in unsuitable, unsafe or temporary accommodation.  

Marion cared deeply for those issues, but heartily resisted any maudlin or sentiment around it. She was driven instead by a sense of equality and fairness, by what’s right. She was a leading champion for how good law and policy should be used to protect, defend and enable people.

Marion especially cherished her role at Scottish Government that she took up in 2009. It represented to her a position where she could best put to good use her culmination of experience and knowledge. She was not what you would call a typical civil servant. She knew so much yet wore that knowledge lightly. Her equal grasp of the strategic big picture combined with a grounded understanding of how things worked in the real world – all shared with clarity and warmth in equal measure – won the deep trust and respect of Ministers and colleagues alike. She so precisely articulated the responsibility of national and local government in ensuring everyone has a home and was also so pivotal within the structures to deliver on it.

Recently Marion contributed to a journal being published to mark a key policy milestone. It is no surprise that her article was about the importance of partnership and trust, on keeping momentum going and on working together. She was the sector’s go-to for information, advice and insight. She really shone as a regular and popular conference chair, keynote speaker and expert panellist within and beyond Scotland – leading debates and discussions in her deep Aberdonian brogue.

A life’s work involves not just advocating for progress but also defending against anything that takes us backwards. Marion did both persuasively, collaboratively and tirelessly and never shied away from speaking truth to power. There are less than a handful of people in Scotland who have been involved in such an important landscape and spanning such an important period. Marion was not just one of them, she was the lynchpin.

We owe her a lot and we’ll miss her.

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Marion’s family are holding a private funeral service next week, while a bigger celebration will be held in Spring so that everyone who wants to will have the opportunity to come together and pay tribute. We hope to share more details of that event in the new year.

Lorna Gibbs has set up a charity fundraiser for Stonewall in loving memory of her partner which is welcoming donations here.

Too Many, Too Young: Deaths while Homeless in Scotland

In November, the National Records of Scotland published the annual homeless death figures report, which estimates that 250 people died while experiencing homelessness in Scotland in 2021. This is at a similar level to 2020, but higher compared to 2017, when these statistics were first collected.

Most recorded deaths (81%) were among men. 72% of women who died were under 45, a higher proportion than men of whom 58% were under 45.

There were an estimated 127 deaths attributed to drug use among people experiencing homelessness. While this is a fall over the past year, drug use still accounts for 51% of all deaths while homeless. Suicide accounted for 9% and alcohol-specific deaths 7%. It is important to highlight there can be overlaps between suicides and drug-related deaths as a death can be counted as both.

There are 3 important points to highlight from the report that have been misreported in some places:

1. Deaths were not ‘on the streets’ but mainly in temporary accommodation. This matters because it reflects the reality of people’s experience of homelessness in Scotland, which is mostly not outdoors, but in temporary places waiting for a settled home.

2. This distinction also demonstrates where energy and resources need targeted to end homelessness in Scotland. More settled, affordable homes for people to build and live their lives. Less time waiting, with more 1:1 support for people to draw from.

3. Full focus should also be on the many missed opportunities. For those at the sharpest end, homelessness follows adversity and poor health – for some people, right back to childhood. People need rapid access to joined up services and a No Wrong Door approach.

You can read the full National Records of Scotland Report on Homeless Deaths 2021 by clicking here.

The Very Best of Intentions: when does good do harm? 

Homeless Network Scotland are launching a conversation series to 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.   

The conversation series will launch at an online event on 6 December 2022 and continue through 2023, where we will be exploring questions such as: 

  • 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 we help voluntary action to be pioneering and trailblazing, rather than resurrecting old practices? 

We will look back at the history and the lessons we have learned together, reviewing evidence and experiences of what works and what matters. And we’ll be inviting contributions from those closest to the challenge, with lived experience and expertise who will challenge us and encourage us in the right direction. 

Don’t miss the first of this series with conversation starters including from Sarah Johnson, ISPHERE at Heriot-Watt University. We are looking forward to seeing you at The Very Best of Intentions on 6 December 10-12. Book here. 

Scottish Government: Ending Homelessness Together Annual Report 2022

The Scottish Government annual report to Parliament on the Action Plan was published Thursday 20 October: Ending Homelessness Together: Annual report to the Scottish Parliament October 2022 (www.gov.scot)

The report summarises progress towards meeting the commitments made in the Ending Homelessness Together Action Plan. The Measurement Task and Finish Group (co-chaired by Homeless Network Scotland and the Chartered Institute of Housing Scotland) will make recommendations for how future annual reports can focus on impact, so that we will understand more about what’s working. 

A few key points from the annual report:

  • Hidden Homelessness – Scottish Government is commissioning research  to understand more about the experiences of people who don’t approach the local authority for support and are therefore hidden from the official homelessness statistics. Scottish Government is also working with the Office for National Statistics to develop novel methods of collecting data on these groups.
  • Local connection – if approved by Parliament, the legislative changes will come into force on 29 November which means that Scottish local authorities will from that date no longer have the power to refer a person who is homeless or threatened with homelessness to another local authority in Scotland on the grounds of their local connection.
  • Homelessness prevention – the Housing Bill detail will be announced next year, timings still to be confirmed. There will be a consultation before final decisions are made. Some existing grants for local authorities are going to be restructured so that prevention work is a more significant requirement. 
  • No wrong door – highlighting the importance of the development to the prevention duties and person-centred approaches.
  • National Care Service – it is not proposed that the housing or homelessness functions of local authorities should transfer to the National Care Service. However, the report sets out how important it is that social care support services work effectively alongside other services, including across housing and homelessness. 
  • Housing as a human right – a new Human Rights Bill including the right to adequate housing will be introduced this parliamentary session. The Scottish Government will consult on the proposals for the Bill in 2023.

The full action plan is here.

Help homelessness closer to home

As people are forced to leave their homes behind in all parts of Scotland, and across many parts of the world, it can be easy to feel powerless – and difficult to know where to help. On World Homeless Day (10 October 2022), people who play a role in their local community are being urged to ‘think global – act local’ to help everyone in Scotland to have a safe place to call home.

The call coincides with the launch of findings from a test-of-change programme exploring what happened when two communities in Glasgow – Pollok and the Gorbals – set about to prevent homelessness and to share what they designed and discovered.

All homelessness starts in a community. But not all communities are at equal risk. The cost-of-living crisis and the social and economic impact of the pandemic will lead to more pressure on communities and more people becoming homeless. Work to protect homes and prevent homelessness is needed across many different fronts – including more focus at a community level.

Homeless Network Scotland wanted to test a new approach to tackle this uneven distribution of homelessness risk, at the heart of the places most affected by it. The test was to understand what happens when ‘subject experts’ collaborate with ‘local experts’ and ‘lived experience’ experts to combine knowledge, insight and problem solving at a local level.

Scottish Community Development Centre and Unity expertly guided this exploratory place-based approach and, with thanks to the National Lottery Community Fund, the partnership were able to support local people to target local investment too. 6 local partners and anchor organisations led the design and delivery of proactive new initiatives – Bridging the Gap, Dawsun, Glen Oaks Housing Association, New Gorbals Housing Association, Spider Arts and SWAMP.

All partners believe that less applications for help with homelessness were made to the local council from both communities during the period of the programme. 6 key themes and 8 key considerations have also been highlighted to help kickstart more place-based approaches to prevent homelessness earlier, and closer to home.  This includes :

  • That the enormous goodwill to help people often centres around towns and cities. But all homelessness starts in a community and acting local, in a range of different ways, can help prevent homelessness earlier, and closer to home.

  • Community Planning Partnerships should include ‘preventing homelessness’ as a priority outcome in Local Outcomes Improvement Plans and Locality Plans.

  • To harness the position and expertise of community groups and structures to:
    • Ask about housing and
    • Act to protect homes and prevent homelessness.

A place-based approach means elected members, community planning partnerships, community councils, other local governance and decision-making structures — along with the wealth of local services, groups and networks. Together we can protect homes and prevent homelessness earlier, and closer to home.

View the results of the test-of-change programme and read a blog from David Ramsay from Homeless Network Scotland. Interested in what your place can do? Get in touch for a chat with the team at Homeless Network Scotland on 0141 420 7272 or email hello@homelessnetwork.scot