Call for local authorities to improve homeless services
‘It’s people, not bricks and mortar’
Charities have joined forces with children’s campaigners to call on the government to introduce a new duty on local authorities to help bring an end to the cycle of homelessness.
Shelter Scotland is spearheading the coalition of 12 organisations which has written to Housing Minister Alex Neil asking for an amendment to new legislation which would force councils to carry out an assessment of all the needs of homeless people.
They want the Housing Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, to include the need for local authorities to take into consideration a range of support needs, from help with furnishing a property to assistance with drug or alcohol problems, in every case where a person becomes homeless.
Graeme Brown, director of Shelter Scotland, said that many people were simply left to cope on their own once they had secured a tenancy but ended up homeless again because their other needs were not met.
He said: “There seems little point in giving people the keys to the house without giving them the support to ensure they are able to sustain that tenancy.
“Housing is about people, it is not about bricks and mortar. Some local authorities do provide a support system but it is not available everywhere. It shouldn’t be a postcode lottery depending on where people move in.”
More than 40,000 households in Scotland were classed as homeless or potentially homeless in 2008/09, but legislation passed in 2003 includes a commitment that every person will be entitled to permanent accommodation by 2012.
However, official figures also show that one-third of homeless households have one or more support needs – from mental health problems to medical conditions and the need to learn basic independent living skills – and charities are concerned that many of these people end up back on the street.
The Shelter Scotland letter, signed by Tam Baillie, Scotland’s commissioner for children and young people, Barnardo’s Scotland and One Parent Families Scotland, warns that it cost £30m last year to re-house people who were homeless more than once in a year.
Phil Robinson, chief executive of Quarriers, another of the signatories, said: “Although we agree with the main thrust of the Housing Bill, there is this revolving-door problem where young people get allocated a house, then because they can’t get the right support, they end up losing the tenancy.
“Not only is it difficult for young people to deal with that but it keeps people in the system where they are using up resources.
“A more joined-up, one-door approach would be beneficial and, in the long-term, save money.”
Research on a project which was set up to support people in North Ayrshire to sustain new tenancies showed that for every £1 invested in the project, a social return on investment of £8.38 was realised, through reduced tenancy turnover, increased ability of tenants to pay rent and reduced welfare benefits.
Alastair Cameron, chief executive of Scottish Churches Housing Action, another of the signatories, said it could be simple help such as providing starter packs to equip a kitchen, offering budgeting advice and assistance in job-seeking.
He said: “We see it as straightforward. Scotland has very good progressive homelessness legislation that has made a big difference since it was introduced in 2003.
“But homelessness is not just about housing. It is about how people settle into their new home and what support networks they have. At the moment there is no legal obligation on local authorities to look at support needs.
“Housing only works if the right support networks are in place for people to settle in after a period of disruption. It makes sense for local authorities to do that and we suggest we take the opportunity to make it a legal obligation.”
Mr Brown added: “The Scottish Government has quite rightly taken the lead about preventing homelessness, but let’s make sure we are not filling up the bath while keeping the plug out.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We have issued clear guidance on preventing homelessness to local authorities. In addition, we established the Cross Sector Supported Accommodation Working Group, which will report next year on the development of supported accommodation.”
Rebecca Docherty was only 16 and still at school when she became homeless. Her social worker referred her to Quarriers and the charity helped find her a tenancy. It also continued to support her, giving her the skills to live on her own, accompanying her when she went to speak to council officials and encouraging her to attend network groups so she could meet others in her situation.
Workers from the charity visited Rebecca, who suffered from depression, and offered emotional support while also helping with day-to-day tasks, such as shopping. Rebecca, now 20, maintained her tenancy for three years before moving back in with her mother, who has bipolar disorder.
Rebecca now volunteers with Quarriers and says: “It is not just about getting the tenancy, it is about the support that comes after
– that is vitally important. A lot of young people would not have been able to sustain tenancy and if this (legislation) were in place it would help a lot more people.”