David Duke MBE, founder and CEO of Street Soccer Scotland and member of the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group
They say that in every crisis, there is opportunity. Admittedly, while the coronavirus pandemic has gripped the world, from my own perspective, it has been difficult to see past the week ahead, let alone to a world when things resume to some sort of normal and start to feel better.
Imagine then how difficult it is to hold on to hope and the promise of ‘better’ if you are homeless, perhaps sleeping rough night after night. ‘Better’ cannot come soon enough for some.
Over the last few months individuals, organisations and institutions have come together to help some of the most marginalised people in our society. We have set the scene for the change we want to achieve, and we have shown that with will things can change. We must now ensure this continues as the risks of the COVID-19 crisis are managed.
Because, as we emerge from one crisis, unfortunately another crisis awaits.
Homelessness is an everyday crisis for thousands of adults and children living in Scotland. As the work of the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group has shown, there is a desire to drive change, to think differently and, importantly, to take action.
Over the last few months we have set a good pace for addressing homelessness in Scotland. The key will be to maintain this level of action over the months and years to come until we end homelessness for good.
The way to achieve that has been the subject of much discussion in the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group. We are all in agreement that we need to create a homelessness plan that works for everyone. We need a plan that is flexible enough to suit individual needs and circumstances. We need a plan that offers choice and empowers individuals and families at a time when all else is lost.
A commitment to flexible support and choice must also be applied to people moving into permanent accommodation. People are much more likely to avoid repeat homelessness if they settle into their new home with a level of support they choose and can integrate into their community. We must ensure people feel safe, that they have relationships and support and a purpose. This is the model we have applied at Street Soccer Scotland for over a decade. I’ve seen others do it successfully too. It works. So, let us take stock at this pivotal moment, assess what is known to alleviate the distress and trauma caused by homelessness and poverty in general, and apply it.
And let’s ask people facing homelessness day in and day out about what they want and need. Many of us think we know what homelessness looks like and some of its impacts on the individual. But what does it feel like? I, unfortunately, know what it feels like, but it’s time to engage everyone else in that conversation, from school children to politicians.
No two people are the same, and that applies to people experiencing homelessness. Behind every statistic is a person with a life story and with hope that things will get better. Let’s capture that hope, and give due consideration to what they need and want to overcome their personal circumstances, using lived experience to design and deliver services that work.
We must also apply the learning of the coronavirus pandemic to prevent destitution and exclusion, ensuring that we do all we can to protect people with no recourse to public funds. If we don’t, who will?
I am proud of the work of the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group and of the recommendations the group has produced. Each recommendation has the potential to change the lives and experiences of people facing homelessness. But together the recommendations have the potential to transform systems, the way we address homelessness and our success in preventing it from occurring in the first place.
If the crisis has shown us anything, it is that urgency and pace of change matter. If we apply the lessons from the health crisis to homelessness, we have an opportunity to radically reshape the homelessness system, and better yet will be one step closer to ending it once and for all in Scotland.