Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group minutes: June 18 2020

Minutes of the 18 June 2020 meeting of the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group.

Attendees and apologies

Chair: Jon Sparkes (CEO, Crisis)


  • Russell Barr (Church of Scotland)
  • Maggie Brunjes (HNS)
  • Mike Dailly (Govan Law Centre) 
  • David Duke (Street Soccer)
  • Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick (Heriot Watt University)
  • Josh Littlejohn (Social Bite)
  • Lorraine McGrath (Simon Community Scotland)
  • Susanne Millar (Glasgow City Council)
  • John Mills (Fife Council & ALACHO)
  • Shona Stephen (Queens Cross Housing Association)
  • Alison Watson (Shelter Scotland)

In attendance:

  • Catriona MacKean (Deputy Director, SG Better Homes Division)
  • Janine Kellett (SG Head of Homelessness Unit)
  • Marion Gibbs (Team Leader, SG Homelessness Team)
  • Ruth Whatling (Team Leader, SG Homelessness Team)
  • Graham Thomson, Team Leader, SG Homelessness Team)
  • Julie Stuart (SG Homelessness Team), Ashleigh Simpson (Crisis)

Items and actions

1. Welcome

Jon welcomed members and confirmed the purpose of this meeting was to have a conversation about the draft recommendations and any changes or additions that were needed. Jon outlined that this would be done by working through the draft recommendations slide pack and there was a slide for each of the headline recommendations.

Jon said that it was agreed that the recommendations to Scottish ministers don’t need to be in the format of a comprehensive report initially but a report will be put together in the style of Aye We Can from the first HARSAG at a later stage. Jon was keen that these recommendations were finalised in the next few days and go to ministers next week.

Jon thanked Judith and Ashleigh from Crisis for pulling together all the feedback received from stakeholders. Best endeavours were made to process and incorporate feedback where a clear consensus or recurrent theme had emerged into the recommendations slide pack.

Jon clarified that the 70 recommendations from the first HARSAG had been translated into the Ending Homelessness Together Action Plan (EHT) and that the recommendations from HARSAG 2 would be adding to the Action Plan and not replacing it. Catriona stated that a lot of the emerging recommendations already sit under existing EHT banners.

2. Discussion of recommendations under Question 1 -  What needs to be already in place to support people in this emergency situation?

Members discussed making reference to culturally appropriate accommodation in relation to affordable housing for all, recognising the importance of meeting the needs of Gypsy/Travellers, and also adding in timescales that were in line with public health advice and Scottish Government guidance on phased exit from lock down.

The discussion also included making the role of advice and advocacy much clearer and specifying access to health interventions on site. It was suggested that frequency of audit should be specifically stated in the recommendation and Catriona stated that it would be helpful to be specific but also recognise that the ability to be flexible for local circumstances was important. It was also indicated that there are providers out with local authority commissioned services that also need to be explicitly included.

3. Discussion of recommendations under Question 2 - What needs to be done quickly to ensure that when people move of from emergency accommodation, they are not forced beck to rough sleeping?

There was a discussion about more emphasis on expectations around funding of Housing First. Members spoke about challenges in procurement.  It was confirmed that Heriot Watt University had been commissioned to evaluate the SG/Social Bite Housing First Pathfinder Programme and the main analysis was due to be done at the end of the year so it may be helpful to involve Sarah Johnson who is leading on this project with these conversations.

In relation to social investors it was felt that it was important to be specific about this work being targeted at areas of greatest housing need but that there was a balance between an immediate response and building homes.  It was agreed that prevention and supply were both fundamental.

Members discussed issues relating to assigning a specific percentage of social lets to homeless households. It was recognised that a clear sense of ambition and expectation on housing providers to maximise these lets was important. However there also needs to be a degree of flexibility for local context and that a solution to one problem wasn’t creating another problem and unintended consequences.

Members raised issues about the importance of getting buy in from Health and Social Care Partnerships (HSCP), particularly during a public health emergency and that involvement from acute care and not just public health was needed.  The health representatives on Homelessness Prevention and Strategy Group (HPSG) have a strand of work that could take this forward.  In addition the Prevention Review Group (PRG) are looking at longer term prevention and have more work to do in respect of HSCP. Members agreed to discuss this out with the meeting.

David Duke agreed to offer a form of words separately about how to address accessing wider support such as building relationships and getting connected to the community.  Personal wellbeing and fostering relationships are a crucial part of getting support right and sustaining tenancies. Suggested linking in with Social Justice work being done in communities through the Social Innovation Partnership.

It was confirmed that the Collective, SG and COSLA were doing some work on people with no recourse to public funds (NRPF) and Catriona will update members by email on a letter to the UK Government on this.

4. Discussion of recommendations under Question 3 - How can we accelerate the pace of work to prevent homelessness? We know that the very best way to prevent rough sleeping is to prevent homelessness from happening in the first place

The discussion started around how to ensure the protection for renters being evicted isn’t being misused by renters who are purposely not paying rent. The messaging needs to be very clear.  There is a need to have continual conversations with tenants about rent payments and accruing debt.  Members then discussed the meaning of not discharging into homelessness and how to practically implement this due to social housing being a safety net to prevent homelessness. There will always be a minority of tenants who do not meaningfully engage with landlords to resolve issues despite interventions from landlords.  It was agreed that the language used in these recommendations is very important to ensure the right message was given. 

The PRG are doing work to ensure that where you can predict homelessness you can prevent it but there is still work to do here.  Landlords are a key part of the prevention process. It was agreed to reword recommendations under 3b, including timescales for both social and private landlords.

There was a discussion around complex needs including that other health interventions are just as important as mental health.  Rewording was agreed on  points around Housing First for women; Case Management Practices and rent deposit schemes.

In respect of recommendations around preventing migrants’ homelessness and destitution, legal and practical issues were raised recognising restrictions that exist due to reserved powers. Members discussed prioritising and focusing on things with the biggest impact in any ask of the UK Government.

5. Discussion on recommendations under Question 4 - What else needs to change in the plan to end homelessness in Scotland to recognise the changing circumstances and a more ambitious view of what is now possible?

Members discussed whether to include the recommendation for a ‘lead professional’ as members suggest experience indicates this could add another unnecessary layer.  Further information was sought on this point. There was also discussion about the rewording or removal of some of the recommendations where it was felt on reflection that the right arrangements were already in place, such as Local Housing Strategies (LHS) already providing a vehicle for strategic assessment of housing need.

It was confirmed that the PRG work is a priority  Work was halted due to COVID19 but is beginning to be picked up again.  It was agreed that prevention isn’t all about changing legislation but also about behaviour and culture change.

6. Close

The meeting closed with Jon confirming that HARSAG would not need to formally meet again given that members are close to consensus on almost all the recommendations. There are still two further meetings with stakeholders to discuss the recommendations due to take place next week, and some further points of clarity, which will inform final recommendations.

Members agreed to send reworded recommendations to Jon. Jon and Ashleigh will circulate the final set of recommendations for sign off soon. A report will be developed after the set of recommendations are sent to ministers.

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