Scotland Leads the Way

“In the old days,” she said, “I felt my job was to do the homelessness assessment to find a way of not helping the applicant. To catch them out or find a loophole. Nowadays my job is to find the best way of helping the applicant. I love my job now.”

This was a chance conversation during the coffee break at a conference in Glasgow on progress to the 2012 homelessness targets with a lady who’s been at the front desk of a council housing department dealing with people presenting as homeless throughout the last decade. It said it all to me.

Scotland’s strategy emerged from the grassroots

In 2003 Scotland took the moral lead amongst nations by stating that a civilised country should not accept that people without a home should go unhelped. It had cross-party support. The Homelessness Task Force that devised the strategy was a cross sectoral partnership, including charities like Cyrenians with our feet in the grass roots. The strategy was underpinned by legislation. It had a goal: that by December 31st 2012 – ten years away – everyone would have a right to a home. There was targeted financial investment, replacing the old large scale hostels, for example. Initially there was a focus on street homelessness. Latterly there’s been a focus on early intervention, prevention and providing housing options.

The progress report from the Parliament in March towards these aims has caused some controversy. Critics seem to say that the results are too good; that there must be some sleight of hand around the statistics. I think we should celebrate what’s been achieved to date. Yes, progress across the 32 councils in patchy and uneven. Yes, we need to ensure that best practice prevails. But we should recognise the successes. As my opening story indicates, we have achieved a fundamental change in practice and culture. People in Scotland faced by the trauma of homelessness are now getting a much better response than once was the case.

Recognising our collective achievement and celebrating it is important. Achieving the 2012 target is not ‘job done.’ It provides the base camp for meeting the next challenges. COSLA estimates that the impact of current Welfare Reforms will lead to a further 3,000 a year homeless presentations in Scotland. I fear it will be far worse. And while the moral commitment is the mark of a civilised society, the ability to deliver enough housing and support services is already being sorely tested, and we know this will get worse.

Des Ryan (CEO)


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