About our organisation
A brief history
Homeless Network Scotland was established in 1980 to bring together the different sectors, organisations and individuals that want to put an end to homelessness and to retain a long-term overview. This overarching purpose is as true today as it was then.
In 1980, Homeless Network Scotland was established as Glasgow Council for Single Homeless. Set up by a number of people whose names became significant in homelessness and the wider social inclusion agenda – Hamish Allan, David Wiseman, David Donnison, to name only a few.
Single homeless people did not have a right to housing except in very limited circumstances. So GCSH was set up as a ‘council’ (i.e. a meeting of minds) to bring together the statutory and voluntary agencies to ensure that the accommodation and social care needs of single people who became homeless in Glasgow could be addressed in some way.
It is difficult to understand, from today’s perspective, how radical and innovative that idea was then. But the homelessness legislation and its Code of Guidance had only recently come into effect in Scotland, and the impact on single homeless people of the rationing of housing through the four hoops (homeless, priority need, intentionality and local connection) was being recognised.
The organisation continued to work on encouraging a strategic and multi-agency approach to homelessness alongside its innovative services for young people and represented the voluntary sector in planning for future developments in Glasgow. Encouraging and promoting good practice standards across the range of service providers in all sectors was also part of the organisation’s everyday work.
New legislation in 1987 and 1988, creating new tenures and amending the homelessness duties placed on Local Authorities, was followed by research on the operation of the Code of Guidance and later amendments to the Code.
The decade of development
In 1990 the foundations of Community Care were laid, but housing came late to the Community Care debate, and homelessness was barely mentioned in the discussions. In the same year, the Conservative government introduced the Rough Sleepers Initiative in London, as a way of keeping the streets of the capital city more acceptable to wealth producing tourism and city business. It was later extended to the rest of England and Wales. Around this time in Glasgow, in contrast, the innovative Hamish Allan Centre one stop shop, and the equally innovative scatter flat programme was set up, reflecting the City Council’s commitment to single homeless people and the discussions at the heart of GCSH.
In the first half of the nineties, case law across the UK continued to result in ever more restrictive application of the legislation until eventually the Awua judgement seemed to suggest that homeless people were not entitled to permanent housing at all! The Scottish Office Housing Division, and most Scottish Local Authorities were concerned about what this would mean for some of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable people in Scottish communities. Scotland’s tradition of council housing was being challenged by depletion of stock caused by the right to buy enshrined in the legislation. Glasgow meanwhile began to research a hostel reprovisioning programme.
GCSH continued to raise the issue of single homelessness within a wide range of forums, to campaign for improvements in policy and practice, and to provide its services to homeless young single people, in an increasingly difficult policy environment. Eventually the accommodation service for young people was closed after a long and exhausting debate with funders, and the organisation needed to take stock of its intentions in a wholly changed environment. GCSH strengthened its role as an independent voluntary organisation which works closely and jointly with statutory agencies on behalf of its voluntary sector membership, and aimed to influence policy, practice and provision through joint working and effective collaboration.
1996 was a year of considerable development, with the organisation becoming involved in the campaign to bring funding to Scotland to tackle rough sleeping, and later in the year working with the Hamish Allan Centre and City Housing and Social Work to set up and coordinate Glasgow’s own Rough Sleeping Initiative.
A monitoring database set up for rough sleeping was developed by GCSH , and became the tool used across Scotland’s RSI funded services. The monitoring database highlighted the role of the large-scale hostels in triggering rough sleeping in Glasgow, and the Glasgow Review Team report set in motion the development of a hostel reprovisioning programme for Glasgow which had a realistic prospect of being funded.
1999 saw the new Scottish Parliament set up, and a new emphasis on Social Justice developed. New housing and homelessness policy was trailed in a green paper, and GCSH responded vigorously. GCSH’s Director was invited by the Housing Minister to join the Scottish Task Force on Homelessness.
Towards the end of the decade, personal development, opportunity, training and employment became recognised as important elements of sustainable resettlement for many people affected by homelessness. The New Futures Fund Initiative was set up through Scottish Enterprise to ensure that some of the most excluded groups could access and actually make use of a programme designed to deliver this. GCSH and its members worked jointly to ensure a big emphasis on homelessness and GCSH set up and coordinated the New Futures network in Glasgow.
The birth of GHN
As we entered the 21st century, the planning for addressing homelessness across Scotland was being undertaken in the light of economic growth, devolution of housing and homelessness policy to the Scottish Parliament, and strong political will to tackle homelessness issues.
At a national level, this led to the passing of internationally renowned, progressive legislation which strengthened the homelessness safety net, and the setting of ambitious targets for the legal acknowledgement of priority status for all unintentionally homeless households and the resulting provision of settled housing.
Influencing practice at a time of change was GCSH’s challenge around the turn of the millennium. The identification of what works for people affected by homelessness was the subject of much discussion and debate in all the GCSH forums and also in the multi-agency working groups at local and national level, including the Task Force.
Glasgow set up its Homelessness Partnership between the City Council, NHS and GCSH in 2001, establishing an Executive Group involving GCSH and appointing a Head of Partnership to develop and implement a major change programme in the city. A critical part of the plan was to reprovision the large-scale hostels and at the same time a wide range of new housing support and supported housing services were commissioned, with GHN providing specialist commissioning skills and experience, and also technical support for bidders, to this work.
The National Homelessness Task Force’s initial report recommended substantial amendments to the homelessness legislation in the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001, increasing the rights of homeless people, and requiring a strategic and partnership approach to preventing and alleviating homelessness. These were enacted. The final report published in early 2002 resulted in the Homelessness etc (Scotland) Act 2003, which aimed to restrict and where possible completely abolish the rationing hoops of the 1979 Act over the next ten years.
Over the couple of years prior to 2002, it became increasingly obvious that the rights of single people would increase and also that families and children who become homeless had become more vulnerable over the last few years. Existing homelessness systems and services had had to adapt considerably, and further change and realignment is to be expected. In the light of all of this change, and of GCSH’s central role within the network of services and the Partnership, GCSH’s Board of Directors recommended to members at the 2001 AGM that the organisation’s remit and name should change to reflect more accurately the nature of the organisation now and the scope of the work. We are a network rather than a ‘council’, and we deal with all kinds of homelessness, not just single homelessness. Members agreed unanimously, and the Glasgow Homelessness Network (GHN) was formally launched at Glasgow City Chambers on 22nd October 2002.
GHN’s commitment to involving lived experience, independent from service provision, had been established over time. A new team was commissioned to sit at the heart of the hostel closure programme and make sure choice and control for residents was paramount. In recognition of the success of this lived experience work, in 2008 the Scottish Government commissioned GHN to deliver a national network to support services and commissioners to involve people with lived experience of homelessness in services, policy and commissioning – a role that continues today.
The deep recession beginning in 2008 led to increased job losses and home repossessions, as well as a range of UK governmental austerity measures that, in the view of many commentators, create the optimal conditions for an increase in homelessness.
A pivotal decade and one which demonstrated that legal rights alone were not enough to end homelessness. The removal of the rationing of housing based on priority need (the 2012 target) was met, giving all people whose homelessness is not intentional the right to settled housing.
Further legislative changes sought to improve access to housing this decade, including reforming the right to buy and the discharge of homelessness duties into the private rented sector. In 2016, people had their right to housing support enshrined in legislation. The Scottish Government embarked on a £3.3 billion affordable housing supply programme, committing to deliver at least 50,000 affordable homes by 2021 of which 35,000 will be for social rent.
The number of homelessness applications decreased in the 8 consecutive years to 2016/17, widely believed due to the positive impact of the introduction of Housing Options in Scotland. However applications rose by 3% to 36,465 in 2018/19 while the proportion of people experiencing severe disadvantage, health and income inequality increased.
Providing clarity, several influential research and evaluation programmes by Heriot-Watt University across this decade were able to pin down causes and consequences of homelessness like never before. We now understand that poverty is the biggest driver of homelessness in all its forms, and child poverty the key predictor of homelessness in later life. We now understand that complex forms of homelessness arrive late, after a lifetime of adversity and pattern of experience that combine to offer new intelligence on how to prevent homelessness, where and when. And we are able to attribute increases in homelessness in Scotland toward the end of this decade as a lagging indicator of recession and a direct result of UK Government policy decisions, especially around austerity and welfare reform.
The SNP’s Programme for Government for 2017-18 announced a £50m Ending Homelessness Together Fund and a new Action Group to make recommendations on how to end rough sleeping, transform temporary accommodation and bring about an end to homelessness in Scotland. 4 reports were published by the group in 2017-2018 and shaped the Scottish Government/Cosla High Level Action Plan. We were proud to be part of designing this new approach as an Action Group member, and in facilitating a Scotland-wide collaboration with over 400 people with first-hand experience of homelessness and 75 front-line staff.
The Scottish Parliament’s Local Government & Communities Committee year-long inquiry on homelessness reported in 2018, followed by the final report from the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group. Both asserted a rapid rehousing approach including Housing First as a cornerstone recommendation for ending homelessness in Scotland.
That year, Social Bite catalysed a Housing First Pathfinder across 5 cities with £3m funding. In 2019, the Scottish Government connected the Government/CoSLA high level commitment to Housing First to the Social Bite programme that was already underway and in doing so became the main funder of a larger £10m Housing First Pathfinder programme to March 2022 that can reach further.
Toward the end of 2019, Scottish Government approved a progressive programme of work to ensure that people with frontline and lived experience of homelessness, through a new change team, will be at the heart of driving change over the next decade. We are proud to be leading on this work.