CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND
1.1 The Homelessness Prevention Innovation Fund ( HPIF) was announced as part of the Statement on the Abolition of Priority Need to the Scottish Parliament on December 21, 2005 2. The fund provided support for new projects not already funded within the existing preventative measures being undertaken as part of local authorities' homelessness strategies. Its aim was to stimulate innovation in homelessness prevention work.
2 1.2 The context for the introduction of the HPIF is the stronger official policy emphasis on preventing homelessness; that is to avoid it occurring in the first place. This has been supported by a number of reports, most notably those produced by the Homelessness Task Force 3, that have stressed that good prevention work is not only cost effective but can also play a crucial role in avoiding related additional problems, such as ill-health, loss of social networks and disruption to children's schooling. Allocating resources to the prevention of homelessness can also relieve pressure on associated services and assist local authorities by reducing the need for crisis accommodation and related services.
1.3 The Housing (Scotland) Act 2001 places a statutory duty on local authorities to draw up strategies for preventing and alleviating homelessness. The Code of Guidance on Homelessness states that the 'prevention of homelessness should be a key strategic aim which local authorities and other partners pursue through the local homelessness strategy'4. The Code also defines homelessness prevention as 'action to be taken by local authorities to prevent homelessness arising in the first place and then recurring'5. Under this definition it can therefore include interventions designed to help households retain existing accommodation as well as assist them to obtain new accommodation. Definitions of prevention are discussed more fully in Chapter 2.
1.4 Scottish Government Guidance on the development of homelessness strategies states that local authorities should prioritise the prevention of homelessness in their strategies, and in doing so should identify actions which will make early and effective interventions to support people at risk of becoming homeless 6. The further reform of homelessness legislation incorporated within the Homelessness etc (Scotland) Act 2003 will broaden local authority responsibilities towards homeless households, through the abolition of the priority need distinction from 2012. Prevention work will therefore become increasingly significant as local authorities prepare for 2012.
1.5 Recent research showed that local authorities in Scotland have developed a range of activities aimed at the prevention of homelessness through 'early intervention' 7. While some councils have been undertaking preventative work for some time, there is evidence that prevention initiatives have been developed or expanded since 2003. These include:
- Homelessness prevention activities targeted at specific groups, including tenants threatened with eviction and individuals scheduled for discharge from institutions.
- Housing advice.
- Family mediation and transitional supported housing schemes.
- Assisted access to private tenancies including rent deposit schemes.
- Tenancy sustainment measures including debt counselling.
1.6 The increasing focus on preventative work combined with the expansion of entitlement to assistance under the homelessness legislation, in particular the abolition of priority need by 2012, will require councils to think differently about how to address homelessness and to be innovative in their approach. In many cases a move to a more preventative approach has been accompanied by the introduction of new posts and a reorganisation of responsibilities 8. A move towards a prevention-oriented service will often require a shift in organisational culture and ways of working. In this context, the HPIF was intended to be a starting point for developing and supporting new practice in homelessness prevention, which can contribute to local authority work in this area.
1.7 An announcement in September 2006 allocated a total of £230,000 to eight specific projects 9. The original timetables varied in duration for each of the eight projects which differed in scale, scope and focus. Some projects were concerned with delivering new services to particular groups while others focused on new ways of working within the delivering organisations. Fuller details of funded projects are included in Chapter Two. It was a condition of grant to each of the projects that they conduct an evaluation, and all projects were asked co-operate with the separate external commission. Funding proposals included plans for monitoring and evaluation.
Research Aims and Objectives
1.8 The aim of this research is to draw together lessons from across the eight HPIF projects to maximise opportunities for learning and to inform the development of homelessness prevention activities across local authoritiesin Scotland. This is a separate commission from the HPIF itself and was intended to be flexible enough to offer assistance to individual projects with their own project evaluation strategies where this was appropriate. In this way it would provide national level learning about homelessness prevention, local evidence of effectiveness and lessons about effective evaluation practice.
1.9 The objectives of the research were to:
- Provide support to enhance individual project evaluations, including:
- assistance to make transparent the theories of change on which the initiatives are based and to explore ways of providing evidence.
- development of understanding of ways to evaluate homelessness prevention activities, including ways to measure 'success'.
- help for participants and project staff to make assessments of how likely homelessness would have been for project recipients without the intervention.
- produce learning about effective homelessness prevention, including identifying what aspects of the projects have been most effective in preventing homelessness, and what it is about the way the projects have been implemented which has contributed to their effectiveness.
- Assist the HPIF projects to learn from each other, both in terms of actual prevention practice and evaluation strategy, and to share their experiences.
- Maximise the learning gained from the projects and the likelihood of such learning being put into practice within local authorities and their partners.
- Disseminate learning about effectiveness to local authorities and the Scottish Government.
1.10 The research commenced in April 2007. An initial meeting was held with all projects; some of these were joint meetings with representatives from the Scottish Government also present.
1.11 The approach to the research with individual projects was not prescriptive, although it did need to tackle a number of objectives at the project, programme and policy level as set out in section 1.9. The original Scottish Government research brief was concerned that the evidence generated about good practice through the evaluations should be translated into good practice as the projects proceeded and encouraged action research approaches. This would require a much more formative approach to evaluation that might otherwise be the case 10.
1.12 After the initial meetings, the contractors made individual arrangements with each project to scope out the need for bespoke support to each of the projects. The role was that of an 'evaluation mentor' offering tailored support to suit the particular scale and stage of each individual project, so that projects with small scale funding, those nearing the end of their funding period (with good quality data in place) and those with proven robust evaluation arrangements would have less support.
1.13 Whilst there was no proposal to use a common monitoring and evaluation framework across such diverse projects, it was proposed to work with each project to articulate their theories of change on which the initiatives are based. None of the projects had a well developed theory of change in the simplest sense of having a shared, explicit and clearly articulated chain of links between their activities, such as providing information, and their intended outcomes - the prevention of homelessness. This can be a valuable process as it helps to highlight assumptions and identify valued outcomes. Importantly it is also a practical evaluation tool which can support the design of suitable, bespoke monitoring and evaluation frameworks which include capture of evidence to report on the achievement of outcomes, including softer outcomes.
1.14 Further support provided was varied but included:
- Help to identify, map and measure hard and soft outcomes.
- Graphic facilitation of outcome maps.
- Devising suitable monitoring frameworks and outcome indicators to support outcome focused evaluation
- Support to assist projects to analyse and interpret their monitoring data
- Help in devising appropriative data collection systems
- Advice and/or facilitation of methods to promote dialogue and engagement in evaluation of project staff, volunteers and service users and external partners. This included focus groups and individual interviews, in person and on the telephone.
- Facilitation of on-going, formative analysis and review of data for learning.
- Drafting of evaluation reports.
1.15 The original proposal included plans for two Exchange Events to bring all eight projects together. The first such event was held in October 2007. Based on the projects original funding proposals it had been anticipated that, by this stage, five of the projects would be completed with three still running. However, in practice, very few of the projects had completed by that stage. The delay in the implementation of some of the projects provided an opportunity to influence the unfolding evaluation process and to test out emerging ideas about good practice in the evaluation of this complex area. There was little evidence available at that stage to enable judgements to be made about which interventions had been most effective in preventing homelessness. Based on the learning from this event, Interim Good Practice Guidance was issued in January 2008 11.
1.16 Since the October event, support has been focused on encouraging projects to prioritise and complete their evaluations. In some cases, this has entailed more direct involvement in the evaluations themselves than was originally intended. A small number of the projects were substantially delayed in their implementation and therefore it has not been possible to ensure delivery of eight full project evaluations. A second Exchange Event will now take place in November 2008 after publication of this report. This will aim to bring a wider group of participants from the statutory and voluntary sectors together to ensure that the learning from the evaluation informs the development of homelessness prevention activities across local authorities in Scotland.
1.17 The findings of this research are limited by both the scope of the original programme and they way that the projects have been implemented and evaluated. However, there are useful lessons about both homelessness prevention and monitoring and evaluation practice.
Structure of the report
1.18 Chapter Two examines a number of issues about how homelessness prevention is defined and considers innovation in the light of the eight funded projects. A brief descriptive profile of each project is provided and some of the challenges for monitoring and evaluation are highlighted.
Chapter Three provides short case studies of each of the project to provide an update on progress and outcomes.
Chapter Four provides the generic lessons for homelessness prevention which includes fuller evidence from the individual evaluations of the eight HPIF projects.
Chapter Five considers lessons about monitoring and evaluation practice and suggests that evaluation needs to become a greater priority amongst senior managers and staff concerned with the homelessness strategy and implementation.
Chapter Six provides a summary and conclusions. A revised Good Practice Guide is included in Annex 1.