Deciding how to help might be ignoring the obvious

Homeless Network Scotland recently made over 1,000 cash payments of £100 to people affected by homelessness, thanks to the Scottish Government’s Wellbeing Fund, supported by SCVO and the Hunter Foundation. The one-off payment was available to households in temporary homelessness accommodation, or people who have recently taken on a Housing First tenancy. Martin Gavin, Head of External Relations at Homeless Network Scotland, explains how it came about.

The coronavirus crisis is helping to shift the concept of direct cash transfers to people who need money away from the fringes of charity fundraising and into the mainstream, both in the UK and abroad. Schemes operating worldwide have enabled people to buy equipment to start a business or repair their homes, or simply supporting them to get by. 

The Staying In Fund came about through a grant of £100K provided as part of the Scottish Government’s emergency response measures. The award of the grant to Homeless Network Scotland permitted us to use the money in the most effective way possible, and in this case simply providing cash or vouchers to people who need it was the preferred option. There is no good time to be short of money, but during this pandemic has been an especially stressful time and we wanted to help ease some money worries or allow people to clear money owed.

There is robust, well-researched evidence that providing money directly to people who need it is an effective response. American non-profit organisation, Give Directly, has been pioneering direct cash transfers for the past decade, according to its website delivering more than $160 million in cash directly to 170,000 families in different parts of the world. The organisation received funding from Silicon Valley tech companies and investors as the pandemic began to take hold in April. Research indicates that receiving a cash transfer has advantages beyond the initial payment, with some people who receive a payment experiencing a growth in income over time, with additional benefits relating to wellbeing and positive health outcomes also recorded.

Here in Scotland, people in temporary accommodation or a Housing First tenancy were able to apply with many applications coming through support providers such as Salvation Army, which delivers services across Scotland including Housing First support.

Kelly Storm, Service Manager at Salvation Army, said: “On a practical level people have been able to buy things like clothes, which they would not normally buy for themselves, items for their tenancies to help make their house feel more like home and also forms of entertainment, such as phones and DVDs, which have helped combat isolation during the lockdown period. We have been able to encourage people to shop in their local stores and supermarkets as well which has helped them connect with their communities. The fund has had an incredibly positive impact on all. For those really feeling the effects of increased isolation and boredom, the receipt of the voucher was a huge pick me up and really lifted their spirits.”

This round of our staying in fund is now closed but testing this method of providing support has demonstrated the value of direct cash grants for people who may have limited access to financial assistance, from friends or family members for example. For us, this confirmed that deciding how best to assist someone might be as simple as enabling them to decide for themselves.

People in temporary accommodation or Housing First were able to apply for the grant, including Lenny from Refrewshire, pictured, who received £100 of shopping vouchers in June.

SURVEY: Impact of Covid-19 on Homelessness Sector

Crisis are conducting research to better understand the impact that Coronavirus has had on people experiencing homelessness, how it has impacted on the support that is needed, and what that means for both front line services, local authority and national government responses. The findings of this will be enormously useful to understanding next steps – please take part if you can. You can find the survey here.

Covid-19: Leading homelessness charities call on national and UK Governments to protect people sleeping rough

Dear Prime Minister,

As Chief Executives of leading homelessness charities, we appreciate the significant pressure the Government is facing in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and stand ready to lend our support as you set out plans to help protect the most vulnerable in our society, including people who are facing homelessness.

People experiencing homelessness, particularly those who are rough sleeping, are especially vulnerable in this outbreak. They are three times more likely to experience a chronic health condition including asthma and COPD. It is therefore vital that they are recognised as a vulnerable group for the purposes of government planning.

We note the publication of Public Health England’s information on COVID-19 for hostel or day centre providers of services for people experiencing rough sleeping. We are concerned that these measures however, fail to provide the much more comprehensive plan and wide-ranging action needed to ensure that everyone facing homelessness is provided with self-contained accommodation, to ensure that they can self-isolate, and that people experiencing financial hardship are not left facing homelessness as a result of the impact of COVID-19.

Please find enclosed a full set of measures that we believe will help ensure people facing homelessness are protected during this period. As a matter of urgency, we are calling on governments to set out a plan, which will include detail on:

• Assistance from the Government to secure hotel style accommodation to meet the increased need for self-contained accommodation so that people can self-isolate.
• The removal of legal barriers in the homelessness legislation so that anyone who is at risk of, or is already homeless, can access self-contained accommodation. This should also include a suspension of rules that prevent people with no recourse to public funds from accessing housing and homelessness assistance.
• The provision of additional financial support through the Universal Credit system to ensure that people are not pushed into homelessness.
• Protecting renters from evictions by temporarily suspending the use of Section 21 and Section 8 evictions.
• Increasing the fund for Discretionary Housing Payments to help renters facing homelessness.
• Measures to ensure that people sleeping rough and living in hostels and shelter accommodation have rapid access to testing for the virus and healthcare assistance.
• An assurance that frontline workers in homelessness organisations are recognised as an emergency service as part of the response to COVID-19.
• A ringfenced proportion of the £5bn fund announced in the Budget last week to fight COVID-19 for local authorities to help deliver these measures.

In light of the speed of recent developments, we would welcome the opportunity to discuss with you and your officials as a matter of urgency how we can help to deliver this plan.

Yours sincerely,

Jon Sparkes, Crisis
Rick Henderson, Homeless Link
Howard Sinclair, St Mungo’s
Seyi Obakin, Centrepoint
Mick Clarke, The Passage
Steven Platts, Groundswell
John Puzey, Shelter Cymru
Margaret-Ann Brünjes, Homeless Network Scotland
Pam Orchard, Connection at St Martin’s
Bill Tidnam, Thames Reach

cc. Rt. Hon. Nicola Sturgeon MSP, Rt Hon. Mark Drakeford AM, Rt Hon. Matt Hancock MP

“All In For Change” launches in Scotland – a new approach to tackling homelessness

In Edinburgh this week (Tuesday 10 December) a new name in the homelessness sector emerged as ‘All In For Change’ held its first meeting, heralding a brand-new approach to tackling homelessness in Scotland.

All In For Change is being led by Homeless Network Scotland, Cyrenians and Scottish Community Development Centre (SCDC), putting lived experience at the heart of system change by bringing together frontline workers and people with their own, personal experience of homelessness either currently or in the past.

The 30 people making up the Change Team were selected from more than 70 who applied and will be represented on a national strategy group on homelessness chaired by The Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning, Kevin Stewart MSP. It will build a network of those living and working with homelessness to influence policy and strategy at local and national levels – and to help turn that into real change on the ground.

Billie has experience of sleeping rough and currently stays in a hostel in Edinburgh. Billie was selected to be part of the Change Team and said: “The way homelessness has been tackled in the past hasn’t worked. The Change Team is part of the new way, changing the language and working together to help the great change of practice that’s sweeping Scotland. Together, ALL in for change, we WILL make homelessness history – aye we can!”

Kevin Stewart MSP attended the first meeting at the Cosla offices at Haymarket, taking part in a question and answer. He said: 

“Everyone needs a safe, warm place to call home – somewhere where we feel secure and can have a sense of belonging. The causes of homelessness are often complex and that is why all services need to be joined up. This new group will support the transformational change set out in our Ending Homelessness Together Action plan backed by the Scottish Government’s £50m fund. All organisations and front-line partners are working hard to prevent homelessness, tackle rough sleeping, cut down the time people spend in emergency temporary accommodation and move people quickly into permanent, settled homes.  

“Understanding and learning from those who have experienced homelessness will help us to address the root causes and prevent it happening in the first place. By bringing valuable lived experience, expertise from the sector and academia together, we will build a better system that works for everyone and help challenge the public’s perception and stigma of homelessness.” 

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

“Our first event was unique, something that we’ve not seen previously on this scale or with this much ambition. I want to thank all of those who applied to be part of this exciting team and welcome the inspiring new team who attended on Tuesday. The plan is that All In For Change will take great policy and help turn it into new practice – supporting workers to be creative, and encouraging people using services to expect and ask for things to be different. 

“The Housing Minister reaffirmed the Scottish Government’s commitment to listen to people with experience, people who know what needs to be done. The challenge is to apply this combined knowledge, experience and insight where it will have the greatest impact and bring about lasting change.”

Cyrenians Head of Service, Amy Hutton, said:

“This is the first time that we in the sector have been wholeheartedly asked to change the way we do things, as well as change what we do. There is appetite and resource to do things in a way that not only has an impact on homelessness in Scotland now, but which will ensure we never find ourselves here again. But change falls flat if it isn’t embraced and driven on the ground. We are incredibly humbled to be part of such an innovative new project, and excited to see the impact All In For Change will have for those at risk of or experiencing homelessness now and in the future.” 

Fiona Garven, SCDC Director, said:

“SCDC is proud to be involved in this crucial piece of work to support people with frontline and first-hand experience of homelessness to lead the systems, practice and culture change we need on the ground.” 

“We’ll be supporting Homeless Network Scotland by bringing our knowledge of co-productive approaches to working with people on an equal basis, involving and respecting lived experiences amongst other voices and creating ways for people to judge and evaluate the success of the work. We look forward to learning from people with the lived experience to make this a reality.”

For further information contact:

Martin Gavin, Head of External Relations, Homeless Network Scotland on 0141 420 7272

Ending homelessness in Scotland – are you all in for change?

Written by Celeste, a volunteer with Homeless Network Scotland

All in for Change is a powerful collaborative development that is about to hit the ground running, bringing together people with lived experience of homelessness, frontline staff and people at government level.

This Change Team means business and will be represented on a national strategy group on homelessness chaired by the Housing Minister, Kevin Stewart MSP.

Around 20 Change Leads will build a national network of those living and working with homelessness to influence policy and strategy at a local and national level, while developing an online shared resource which will ensure everyone to keeps up to date with what is happening.

No one understands the need for change better than staff in frontline support and advice roles along with people, like me, who have experience of homelessness. With my fellow volunteers at Homeless Network Scotland, I have brought lived experience of homelessness to the table to share information, challenge current systems and effect positive change by communicating with people in different roles in the sector.

Over the last few years there has been some fantastic research conducted with people who have lived experience, which has produced insight on what the real issues are. The importance of lived experience consultation and participation in the planning and decisionmaking process is now recognised as being important at both local council and government level here in Scotland.

This is a crucial step forward as it means that collaborative teams are being formed so that decisions are made ‘with’ those who have lived experience rather than ‘for’ them. It gives people like me an additional voice, a place at the table and a key part in the decision making process. It is empowering and long overdue.

This new and high-profile team of passionate, non-judgemental, respectful and open-minded people with frontline and first-hand experience of homelessness, will lead the systems, practice and culture change we need. Well connected to people and groups across areas and services they represent, the team won’t be afraid to have the ‘difficult’ conversations needed to take control and influence policy and strategy. Team members will be challengers not ‘yes men’, they will be disruptive when necessary and passionate about making things better.

Supported by Homeless Network Scotland (formerly GHN), Cyrenians and Scottish Community Development Centre, the work is funded by Scottish Government and the Frontline Network, from St Martin-in-the-Fields. Anyone invited to be part of the team will not have to give up their day job. Drop in information and chat sessions for those interested in being part of the team are being held in Perth, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Troon. For further information and application pack please click here