"Everyone needs a safe, warm place they can call home."
This first sentence in the Ending Homelessness Together: High Level Action Plan we published last year remains the focus of everyone working to end homelessness in Scotland.
Since devolution Scottish homelessness policy has diverged from the rest of the UK. Changes brought about – particularly in the run up to 2012 when the concept of priority need was abolished – were transformative for people facing homelessness in Scotland. The rights of people experiencing homelessness in Scotland are among the strongest in the world.
Our 2018 Action Plan set out how the Scottish Government, local authorities and partners will implement the recommendations of the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group to drive real and lasting change towards ending homelessness.
During 2019 we have seen everyone turn the actions of our 2018 Action Plan into a reality. That has meant changing the way we provide help by making sure all parts of the public and third sector are able to act and work together to prevent, tackle and end homelessness. Our progress is clear, and I am delighted that, in the first year of the Action Plan, 39 of the 49 have been progressed with 10 completed. We have plans in place to progress the remaining 10 longer term from 2020-21.
Our focus is on safe, settled homes for all and our actions are backed by our £50 million Ending Homelessness Fund. This year, we increased funding from £23.5 million to £32.5 million for rapid rehousing and Housing First over three years. The money will be used so local authorities and partners can find ways to avoid or minimise the need to spend time in any form of temporary accommodation. It will also support people into settled accommodation first – before helping them with any longer term needs whilst sustaining their place in a home.
When someone is facing homelessness, temporary accommodation is an important safety net; but it should be high quality, provide excellent support, and must be short-term. I recognise this is a significant transformation challenge so must remain an important focus for us. In 2019 we introduced advisory standards for temporary accommodation and announced our plans to ensure that no-one spends more than seven days in unsuitable accommodation, with new legislation implemented in 2021.
Every local authority has developed a Rapid Rehousing Transition Plan. This is the local route map setting out how policy, practice and partnerships locally will transform to prioritise settled homes for all and transform the temporary accommodation offer in the coming years. Change takes time, but the work underway in every local area demonstrates the strength of joint commitment to bringing about the transformation across Scotland.
We have supported the delivery of Housing First Pathfinders to support people with multiple and complex needs to access and sustain settled housing. This has resulted in over 150 people in tenancies so far, with no evictions or abandonments. We are also supporting the development of an anti-destitution strategy, to mitigate the worst impacts of the UK Government’s immigration policies. While our partnership approach to local winter planning, building on the experiences last winter, has been backed with additional funding.
Our vision is to support everyone – including those who find it difficult to access support and services. That’s why in 2019 we commenced legislation to remove barriers people experiencing homelessness can face and to change the way homelessness applications are assessed. This was done in recognition that there are usually good reasons for people wishing to live in a certain area and people found intentionally homeless often face complex health and wellbeing issues they need help to address.
We are also continuing with our commitment to prevent homelessness among those groups at highest predictable risk of homelessness. This includes young people, particularly those who have been in care, women experiencing domestic abuse, veterans of the armed forces and people deemed to have no route to accessing public funds due to their immigration status.
I am particularly conscious that causes and experiences of homelessness are complex and diverse. As a result, and following engagement with a range of stakeholders, we have developed work specifically to explore how gender affects causes and consequences of homelessness and will ensure our actions and commitments are informed by a gendered analysis of homelessness.
We’ve learned a lot from the first year and identified gaps in our original plans. Importantly we’ve taken steps to address those gaps and reflect on our learning.
Ending homelessness is a significant task and a significant priority. The groundwork has been laid and we will continue to implement our plans in the coming years – supporting local areas to further rapid rehousing and Housing First and progressing legislation and guidance to give greater advice, protection and rights meaning that homelessness will only ever be rare, brief and non-recurrent.
Getting this right will mean that everyone has a safe, warm place they can call home.
Aileen Campbell MSP
Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government