West Dunbartonshire declares housing emergency

A housing emergency has been declared in West Dunbartonshire amid unprecedented pressures on the ability to meet the needs of those in social housing or seeking a council property.

The local authority said Housing and communities Convener Councillor Gurpreet Singh Johal made the declaration and urged the Scottish Government to review the decision to cut the Affordable Housing Supply Programme allocation to West Dunbartonshire by 27% (£2.873m) for 2024/25.

The Housing and Communities committee heard significant progress has been made in the past year to cut the number of empty homes, while 133 new council homes were built and 262 households were prevented from experiencing homelessness.

But Councillor Johal said the council had no choice but to declare an emergency because of stark figures including over 5,500 households on the housing waiting lists, 274 people living in temporary accommodation and over 1,000 homeless assessments being carried out.

The motion received cross-party support and will now involve the Council engaging with both internal and external partners to map out a way forward.

Councillor Johal said: “This decision has not been taken lightly but I sincerely hope that this can help lead us on the path of greater stability for everyone in our communities, especially those who are facing homelessness and unstable accommodation.”

West Dunbartonshire Council is the fifth local authority in Scotland to declare a housing emergency following similar moves within the past year by Argyll and Bute, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Fife.

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.

An open letter to the new Scottish Cabinet and Ministers

Following this week’s statement by the First Minister, those of us concerned about homelessness were reassured by the Scottish Government’s continued commitment to resolve the issue, including £3.5 billion to deliver 100,000 affordable homes.

For the cabinet, ministers and MSPs this period is the beginning of a new Parliamentary term buoyed by our shared hopes for a brighter future. Recognising that Scotland’s journey to eradicate homelessness is continuing, not starting, is central to defining that future, as well as protecting the remarkable progress made to date. We see a welcome focus on action in the first 100 days, and beyond. Because ending homelessness in Scotland IS possible – IF we continue to act on what works, and what matters. 

Scotland has Europe’s strongest homelessness legislation and policy – but change on the ground can feel slow. Please consider what we believe are the five most important ‘known knowns’ shaping what we are doing, framing what has been achieved and guiding future direction:

  1. Housing ends homelessness. Scotland will have ended homelessness when every person has a safe place to build and live their life, not just a safe place to sleep. Housing should be in communities that people want to live in. Housing First redresses disadvantage among people whose homelessness is made harder by experiences including trauma, addictions and mental health.
  2. We are not all at equal risk. Estimates show eight per cent of the Scottish population will experience homelessness and we can predict those at greatest risk. Poverty is the most powerful driver, with child poverty a key predictor of homelessness later. We are over eight times more likely to become homeless if household income is under £10k than if over £20k.
  3. Homelessness arrives late in most cases. Councils and charities are carrying the can for missed opportunities to prevent homelessness early. All homelessness starts in a community, and a place-based approach to prevention – tightened by a new legal duty on the wider public sector – can stop it happening.
  4. Hostels were closed for good reason. Temporary accommodation is essential to avoid rough sleeping or other unsafe options on a daily basis. The scale offered by hostel and shared provision can seem appealing. However, that response cannot resolve homelessness, but maintains and sustains it. Evidence proves that a better response is to rapidly accommodate people in a home of their own.
  5. Homeless is a housing status, not a ‘type’ of person. People and families affected have different experiences and priorities. Support needs to be person-led and integrated. Government funding for Housing First in Scotland is drawn from both homelessness and the health portfolios, evidence of a commitment to joint working. Ending homelessness depends on planning and commissioning across multiple sectors and taking an equalities approach.

The Everyone Home Collective is a group of 35 academic and third sector organisations, including this one, committed to ensuring that housing is the first line of defence in our recovery. The collective is working in partnership with All in For Change, bringing lived experience and frontline leadership. We extend a warm invitation to meet us to discuss our shared priorities and how we can help achieve our shared goal of eradicating homelessness in Scotland.

Maggie Brünjes
Chief Executive of Homeless Network Scotland