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Shelter Scotland at 50 – still plenty work to do

pic of five people, one the first Minister, one in wheelchair

On 11th September, Jimmy Black was at Shelter Scotland’s 50th anniversary event at the Scottish Parliament

It’s hard to imagine Scotland without Shelter. When the First Minister of Scotland paid tribute to Scotland’s pre-eminent housing charity, she said her aim was not to reduce homelessness. Nicola Sturgeon wants to eradicate homelessness, and the cross party MSPs who attended Shelter’s 50th anniversary event seemed to agree.

Seated near the First Minister was a woman whose family had broken up and who found herself, in a wheelchair, in inaccessible temporary accommodation for more than two years. In Scotland, with the most advanced homelessness legislation in the world, it took Shelter’s legal team to force the issue and get her properly housed.

In this context no-one was using the word “celebration” about the 50th anniversary event. Instead speakers such as Monica Lennon MSP recognised the work Shelter has done over 50 years to promote legislation, and then enforce it through practical and legal help for homeless people.

So if the legislation is good and the political will is there, why is it necessary for thousands of people to sleep out to raise money for homeless services? It’s one thing to make decisions, another to actually change.

Three current initiatives give some hope. Josh Littlejohn’s Social Bite project and the funds raised for Housing First have rummled things up. It recognises that housing is generally only one of the issues many homeless people face. The theory is that you swiftly provide permanent housing in the community and simultaneously provide all the different support required.

Dundee is providing 100 tenancies for Housing First over two years; four charities have combined to provide the support with £400,000 from the Corra Foundation. Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Stirling are all participating.

Rapid Rehousing is the Scottish Government’s aspiration for homeless people generally, with time in temporary accommodation reduced from years and months to a matter of weeks. Councils must come up with an implementation plan for rapid rehousing by December this year and have five years to implement this fully.

The third is SHORE … Sustainable Housing on Release for Everyone. So many former prisoners find themselves homeless within a short time after release and many find themselves back in prison, only to be released again. SHORE would mean that on the day of release they would have suitable, sustainable housing. That should be happening now.

These developments could mean significant changes to housing allocation policies. For example, one reason why people stay so long in temporary accommodation is that they are waiting to get to the head of the housing queue. Allocation systems can be so rigidly ‘fair’ that they create nightmares for families and subvert the homelessness policy agenda.

It also means disruption for the voluntary organisations which currently provide hostel accommodation for single people. If these new initiatives are successful, they will have to change what they provide, or stop providing temporary accommodation altogether.

All of this requires the third sector, health & social care partnerships and housing agencies to work together in a proper integrated way.

Dundee’s approach is to bring the Third Sector and statutory agencies through the Housing Options and Homelessness Strategic Planning Group. The first three Housing First tenancies will be granted before Christmas, and there will be thirty-odd by the middle of 2019.

Jimmy Black

12 September 2018