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