Martin Gavin: How the Programme for Government stacks up on homelessness

Martin Gavin from Homeless Network Scotland takes a closer look at the housing and homelessness elements in the Programme for Government, published on Tuesday.

‘A Fairer, Greener Scotland’ declares the bold white typeface set against blue sky in the striking cover photograph for the 2021/22 Programme for Government, published yesterday.

These overarching priorities for the new Government lead the reader into a 123-page document rooted in prevention and early intervention across the board and peppered with references to homelessness. It is the context of how and where that word appears that is key, affirming that not only have we learned lessons from the pandemic about inclusion, fairness and equality but that the Government’s continued commitment to the Ending Homelessness Together Plan after May’s election is convincing, with a strong showing on homelessness again in this year’s Programme for Government.

It appears in the First Minister’s introduction. “We will ensure that everyone has a safe, warm place to call home – taking forward an ambitious programme of affordable housebuilding, eradicating homelessness and rough sleeping.” This pledge from Nicola Sturgeon, which accompanies an additional £50m funding commitment, is something all of us in the sector welcome, along with specific commitments such as ensuring no return to communal night shelters after progress made during the winter of 2020/21. We will hold the Government to this pledge, while providing all possible engagement, encouragement and energy to help realise this shared ambition.

Other signs that homelessness is now increasingly recognised as emerging from system failure include mentions in section 5, titled Living Better: supporting thriving, resilient and diverse communities. It places the problem in a community setting alongside issues such as, ‘ensuring people have access to the services they need in their own neighbourhoods’ and ‘supporting inclusive communities’. This reflects work by Homeless Network Scotland and our partners taking place right now in Pollok and Gorbals, where Lottery funding is being directed to prevent homelessness by people who live and work in those areas through the ‘Staying In’ project.

As part of creating welcoming communities, the Programme for Government states: “No‑one should be made destitute because of their immigration status. We will do everything in our power to improve support for people at risk of destitution, delivering on our Ending Destitution Together strategy.” This is a critical tone of voice from government given that immigration is a reserved matter. Work to progress this is well underway by the Scottish Government and many other partners, including Homeless Network Scotland, deeply concerned by the lack of support for people in this position. Efforts to prevent homelessness and end rough sleeping will be undermined without concomitant measures to mitigate the impact of UK immigration policy that amounts to destitution by design. The intention by the Scottish Government included in the Programme for Government to ‘explore alternative ways to reduce migrant homelessness’ comes at a critical time, with pressure on the UK Government to reconsider its approach coming from charities, human rights advocates and politicians from all sides.

Finally, and deeply interconnected, are the vital scaling up of Housing First alongside well publicised commitments and funding from the Government to tackle drug deaths. A webinar this week hosted by Homeless Network Scotland explored the relationship between Housing First and harm reduction, with experts from across and beyond Scotland leading the debate. The Programme for Government mentions specific work to ‘scale up Housing First more rapidly’ plus the introduction of a new check up process that Homeless Network Scotland has been working on and consulted on over the summer. This will accompany the national roll out in most Scottish local authorities and is due to launch in the autumn.

In some respects the Programme for Government includes the commitments we in the sector had hoped for and expected. But it is also reassuring given the focus this Government must have on guiding Scotland out of a pandemic and into recovery. The references to homelessness – 15 in total – are placed with care, often alongside commitments and pledges to address broader social issues that we know often contribute to homelessness. Overall, this Programme for Government leaves us reassured that valuable progress will not be lost, existing promises stand and new commitments are on the record.

Choice: Conference now open for sponsorship opportunities

We are proud to host Scotland’s largest knowledge and networking events on ending homelessness. 

This year Choice will cover three themes over 3 days – Housing ChoiceSupport Choice, My Choice. We will be exploring how we ensure real-world options match the national policy ambition – and how we exercise choice and control when options are sometimes limited. 

Join us as an event partner, sponsor or exhibitor across 3 dynamic days (5-7 October). We are using a specialist conferencing online platform ‘Remo’ to reach further and more creatively – and to make sure every delegate gets a unique conference experience.  

Find out more about the conference and how you and your organisation can be centre stage. 

A small organisation making a big impact

A busy first half of 2021 for Homeless Network Scotland included hosting the sector’s largest gatherings online, expansion of All In For Change – Scotland’s lived experience experts – and consolidation of the Everyone Home Collective, which now includes more than 30 third sector and academic organisations concerned about homelessness.

Homeless Network Scotland is a knowledge-based membership organisation. As a network, it creates opportunities to connect, learn and act on homelessness to end it for good. The organisation’s latest Impact Report sets out it’s work in the first half of this year. Priority issues in the report include what’s needed to end destitution among people with no recourse to public funds; the future role of supported housing as part of our homelessness response; taking a place-based approach to preventing homelessness and supporting Scotland to scale up Housing First.

Maggie Brünjes, Chief Executive of Homeless Network Scotland, said:

“During the first half of this year it has been our privilege to be a support-act for a remarkable sector that has continued to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic on people, including enabling a successful vaccination roll-out programme across services. And to provide a platform for people who can draw on their first-hand experience of homelessness to advise on what works, what really matters and what happens next.”

Important highlights in the first half of the year included:

  • Building on the success of last year’s Staying In fund, when they distributed £100,000 directly to 1,000 people experiencing homelessness, Homeless Network Scotland worked with the Scottish Government homelessness unit to get cash directly into the hands of people living in temporary accommodation through a £50,000 winter support fund.
  • 400 people registered for the Branching Out conference in March. Over 100 people took part in two online Members Events, one focused on preventing a return to rough sleeping and the other considering the future of supported housing.
  • Following the publication of the Everyone Home Collective’s route map on ending destitution and protecting human rights, Homeless Network Scotland has worked with key partners to design a new gateway to a safe destination, support and advice for people with no recourse to public funds, preparing to launch later this year.
  • Publication of the National Housing First Framework, a blueprint for all areas starting up or scaling up Housing First in Scotland. In the transition from year two to year three of Scotland’s Housing First Pathfinder 129 people moved into their own Housing First tenancy between January and June 2021, a 54% increase compared to the same period in 2020. Prior to the Scottish elections, Homelessness Network Scotland worked with partners and politicians to secure cross-party support for Housing First in the new parliament.
  • Expansion of All In For Change with recruitment of an additional 14 Change Leads. The Change Team all have lived and frontline experience of homelessness and are contributing to the updated Ending Homelessness Together Action Plan following the new recommendations from the reconvened Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group, bridging the gap between policy and action on the ground.
  • Launch of The Learning Lounge, a specially curated programme of learning and training events for organisations across Scotland. This programme reached three-times as many people than the same period last year, with 135 people from 56 organisations attending 11 courses covering six key topics.

Homeless Network Scotland has just announced dates for its autumn conference from 5-7 October 2021 based around the theme of choice. The Conference will consider what it will take to ensure that people facing homelessness have choice and real options. More details will be available in the coming weeks.

Network Briefing for August 2021 is now live

Homeless Network Scotland’s regular update is now live and you can access it by following this link. This month’s Network Briefing includes the latest sector news and details of our current recruitment for Head of Policy and Equalities, plus an update on All In For Change as we welcome 14 new members to the team. There are dates for your diary, including a ‘save the date’ for our autumn conference as well as some events taking place in the next few weeks. To receive the Network Briefing direct to your inbox, sign up here.

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