Publication - Minutes

Homelessness Prevention and Strategy Group minutes: July 2020

Published: 10 Aug 2020
Date of meeting: 14 Jul 2020

Minutes of the Homelessness Prevention and Strategy Group held on 14 July 2020.

Published:
10 Aug 2020
Homelessness Prevention and Strategy Group minutes: July 2020

Attendees and apologies

Attendees

  • Kevin Stewart MSP (Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning; Co-Chair)
  • Cllr Elena Whitham, COSLA (Community Wellbeing Spokesperson; Co-Chair)
  • Katey Tabner, COSLA
  • David Duke, Street Soccer Scotland
  • Gordon MacRae, Shelter Scotland (deputising for Alison Watson)
  • Sally Thomas, SFHA
  • Lorraine McGrath, Simon Community
  • Ruth Robin, Healthcare Improvement Scotland (deputising for Neil Hamlet)
  • Jon Sparkes, Crisis
  • Sabrina Galella, A Way Home Scotland/Rock Trust Coalition
  • Shea Moran, Aff the Streets
  • John Mills, ALACHO
  • Janice Stevenson, LGBT Youth Scotland
  • Gavin Yates, Homeless Action Scotland
  • Viki Fox, Change Team
  • Catriona MacKean, Scottish Government
  • Janine Kellett, Scottish Government
  • Graham Thomson, Scottish Government
  • Melanie Goodfellow, Scottish Government
  • Ruth Whatling, Scottish Government
  • Marion Gibbs, Scottish Government
  • Matt Howarth, Scottish Government
  • Michael Crook, Scottish Government

Apologies

  • Neil Hamlet
  • Alison Watson
  • Angie Wood, Aberdeenshire Health and Social Care Partnership
  • Peter Barry, SOLACE

Items and actions

1. Welcome and introductions

Cllr Whitham welcomed everyone to the meeting and thanked everyone for joining so soon after the last meeting. As there was a full agenda, members were advised that the minutes from the last meeting on 1 June had already been circulated and any changes are to be sent directly to Melanie to amend.

Cllr Whitham went on to thank everyone for all of their hard work since the last meeting, particularly those who contributed to HARSAG, including Jon Sparkes for sending over the final report the night before this meeting.

2. HARSAG recommendations

Jon Sparkes, the chair of HARSAG, introduced the recommendations to members. He extended his gratitude to all those involved. He explained that it had been an intensive and quick piece of work that was well thought through and evidenced, with around 63 groups/organisations feeding in their comments and thoughts too.

The new HARSAG report contains four sets of recommendations, with 105 in total.

These recommendations build on a lot of work that is already being taken forward and members noted that it was great to see the SG team is taking some of this work forward already.

John Mills noted that if we didn’t have well established and well thought out RRTPs we would not be in a position to deliver some of this, so it was a great place to be. However, some of the RRTPs will need reworked in light of the new HARSAG report and we need to allow local authorities the time to rework some of the plans. The sooner the report is published the better.

3. HARSAG recommendations: feedback from the Change Team

Viki Fox provided members with:

  • verbal feedback on their meeting about the HARSAG recommendations and;
  • an update on the Change Team work since the last meeting on 1 June.

Viki highlighted to members that the Change Team feel that the recommendations really align with their work and focuses on many of the same priorities.

The team have been very active since the last meeting, particularly as they were invited to feed in to the HARSAG work and also met with Mr Stewart to discuss the new recommendations. These meetings were very positive and the team got a lot from them as their views and concerns were listened and responded to. The team weren’t clear on their role in supporting the Ending Homelessness Together Programme, but after these meetings they felt they had opportunity to have their voices heard and see the impact their work has.

The team want to ensure that rough sleeping continues to remain low and they will continue to advocate for shared values and call for services to operate in a similar way. The team also want to see more resources to help people deliver partnership working following the excellent collaboration that has taken place during the response to Covid-19. They want to see more flexibility for services and more person focussed services, rather than targets. The team also want to see an end to night shelters and hostels and highlighted that voids should be allocated to those who are homeless as a priority. 

The team feel that there is a lack of clarity about when people with no recourse to public funds can be supported and when they are ‘locked out’. They know there is legislation, but isn’t well used and hard to navigate. Members agreed with this point.

Finally, Viki highlighted that staff training around trauma support was needed, as this will help to prevent the cycle of repeat homelessness.

The Change Team want to ensure that they are representing all demographics to allow everyone to engage with their work and they are currently considering how to take this forward.

They have also been asked for comments on the ongoing Unsuitable Accommodation Order (UAO) work. They feel very good about this as they are now being actively invited to engage and feel like they are more involved in processes now.

Mr Stewart agreed that their meeting went very well and wanted to raise the points discussed about how to destigmatise areas seen as undesirable. He highlighted to all members the importance of getting across the point that places that have been stigmatised in the past are actually very good places to live with a lot of community support. The Change Team are now looking at ways to destigmatising areas and this work will be extremely helpful as we move through recovery.

Cllr Whitham also highlighted the need to maximise housing options and the importance of destigmatising certain areas to show that they can be a great place to live.

Sally Thomas highlighted that it might be helpful to undertake a collaborative piece of work on stigmatisation of not only areas, but also people. Members agreed that this was something to consider at a later date.

Mr Stewart also wanted to talk about targets as the fixation on numbers is detrimental towards doing the right things. The original  HARSAG report, the Action Plan and the HARSAG II report is looking for solutions for people, which is why this work has been excellent.

4. HARSAG recommendations: feedback from the meeting with women’s groups

Catriona provided a brief verbal update to members following a round table discussion with women’s organisations on 25 June.

The purpose of the meeting was to draw in experiences of women, particularly during the pandemic, and establish how to take forward HARSAG’s recommendations in the context of recovery from the Covid-19 outbreak.

It was a good and productive discussion.  There were concerns from members of the group that HARSAG hadn’t looked through a gendered lens and it was felt that the Scottish Government needs to ensure it is taking account of the Equally Safe work and meeting the needs of women and children in its response to the recommendations. A robust EQIA is also needed. 

The group highlighted experiences of women’s sofa surfing, that women are more likely to have children with them and more likely to have experience of domestic abuse. 

During the height of the pandemic and lockdown, Scottish Women’s Aid (SWA) and local women’s aid branches found it difficult to engage with some housing services, although there are notable exceptions. This made it difficult to support women in to safe accommodation and saw refuges become full very quickly.

Lorraine McGrath said there was wide acknowledgement of the important work by officials to draw together an evidence summary on equalities.

Jo Ozga said that Catriona had provided a good summary of the concerns.  She noted that the evidence part of the EQIA is a good start to the process, but an equalities analysis really needs to be applied throughout the process.  We need to look at the gendered impact of COVID over the coming months and years in Scotland as it will have a real impact on women’s equality (we also need to consider age, race, disability, LGBTQ).

Cllr Whitham agreed that integration across a number of policy areas is key to progressing this work effectively.

5. HARSAG recommendations: developing the SG response

Catriona provided members with an update on the Scottish Government’s approach and response to the recommendations. Members were advised that a statement about next steps would be published soon.

Our priority will be to support people currently in emergency accommodation, such as hotels, to move on to a secure home.

Cllr Whitham advised that the COSLA Community Wellbeing Board will consider the HARSAG report and recommendations at next meeting and she will be in a position to update members at the next meeting.

Mr Stewart thanked everyone for their immense efforts and highlighted how amazing it was to see such a large number of organisations brought on board and feed in to this work in such a short timescale.

The Minister highlighted that his main concern was supporting those with NRPF and ensuring that the UK Government does not go back to managing this group of people the way they did prior to the pandemic. We need to work together to get the changes that are needed.

Cllr Whitham agreed and highlighted that The Collective are working on this issue.

Gavin Yates highlighted to members that Homeless Action Scotland’s survey shows that this is a major concern, as well as the DWP returning to pre-pandemic ways of working. They are working with Job Centre+ colleagues to get them to take a more person centred approach.

Jo highlighted that a huge number of women are currently excluded from access to support and SWA are very concerned about what’s going to happen as lockdown restrictions are eased. Women who don’t get support often return to an abusive partner.

Sally advised members that the NRPF issue will be fully supported by SFHA. She also wanted to highlight to members that the Universal Credit uplift is going to be removed soon and this could be a bit of a cliff edge. She also said that DWP announced that they will be rolling out a payment system that aligns tenant and landlord payments, which is really helpful and may help to manage some of this.

6. HARSAG recommendations: group discussion

John Mills advised members that the Housing Options Hubs were meeting fortnightly. The next meeting of the RRTP subgroup is on 19 August and the focus will be on the new HARSAG recommendations and how the Hubs can support the delivery of this work. He also noted that the subgroup members were very keen to ensure that no one returns to the streets and discussions would also centre around the potential impact of UAO legislation.

John advised that Personal Housing Plans will also be discussed that this will support the person centred work and encourage the join up of services. Connections made by organisations during the crisis need to be maintained and local audits will help to monitor the progress of this. The Hubs want to broaden the Housing Options approach, particularly in the Private Rented Sector, which will be supported by the Housing First approach. He noted that RRTPs need to pick up on prevention focussed recommendations and that there would be a lot of work involved to re-focus the plans and local authorities would welcome the extra time to do this.

Gordon MacRae asked how local authorities could be supported to bring voids back online.

John advised that resilience groups are working hard to get voids online. He noted that Shelter’s Empty Homes Partnership has been under-utilised during the crisis and that it would be useful to get this going.

Gordon agreed to send Shelter Scotland’s Empty Homes Partnership update to SG officials, who will circulate to all members.

Cllr Whitham stated that empty homes officers would be helpful through the recovery period. The Minister agreed. He advised members that it doesn’t make sense to wait until houses are ‘immaculate’ before people moving in, but it was imperative that all critical repairs were undertaken.

Ruth Robin stated that there is a clear and deliberate ask from the Health sector around multi-disciplinary planning.

Lorraine advised that there are ongoing issues with health and homelessness and the risks are high if these aren’t addressed. A systematic approach is needed, especially for those with complex needs. Links with primary care are also important.  

Ruth stated that learning can be taken from care co-ordination approaches that can be adapted and tested.

Cllr Whitham highlighted that it’s important to think about how this group can get teams to act before there is a duty to do so.

Catriona highlighted to members that this conversation aligns with the hospital discharge prevention pathway and that Ruth should join in with these conversations to involve the i-Hub in the development of this pathway.

Gordon asked the group if there was any indication on whether buy-backs have started to pick up again to help address concerns around immediate supply.

The Minister advised that if local authorities and Housing Associations want to put forward buy-backs, these will be considered and we have to be flexible around this. We want to see as many homes for people as possible. Cllr Whitham clarified that these need to be the right homes in the right areas.

Viki said that Housing First tenants were waiting a long time in Edinburgh to be housed and there was a worry they were being by-passed. The Housing First Pilot is successful as frontline staff have smaller caseloads, so it’s important that we invest in more staff to ensure this happens as it is rolled out nationally to allow staff to work with individuals effectively. There is also concerns with the PRS, particularly in landlords reverting back to short-term lets.

Cllr Whitham agreed that we need to recognise that Housing First workers are key workers and that we don’t want to see landlords reverting back to short-term lets. The Minister wanted to update members on the work that was paused around short term lets during pandemic. He advised that this has started again and legislation should be brought in by next Spring, with the consultation finalised later in the year.

Sally advised members that the Scottish Associations of Landlords are keen that buy-back properties are available to go from the PRS to SRS. She also advised members that SFHA are launching a strategic partnership with Homeless Network Scotland on 15 July to strengthen their role and help support the implementations of the HARSAG recommendations.

Lorraine suggested that Housing First is starting to be built into the housing system, but some parts of system aren’t responding such as health, DWP and others highlighting that there are still a lot of areas that present challenges.

John Mills advised members that any opportunity to marry up health and housing is welcomed and that the Directors of Health and Social Care and the Heads of Housing being brought together would be helpful. The Minister also wants Health and Social Care Partnerships and drugs and alcohol partnerships to be involved.

Ruth suggested that the learning and opportunities are used to develop a national learning system, and that the impact of mental health would be important here.

Jo highlighted to members that it is critical to have women’s groups represented and they must be involved to support the development of pathways for Housing First.

Gordon wanted members to note that Shelter are pleased with the recommendations, but they also want the rights framework to be part of the response too. It is imperative that we don’t do anything to diminish the framework as we take this work forward. Shelter advocate for a rights based framework and system, so everyone has fair access.

Ruth advised members that it is important to call on health to develop a prevention focussed approach. She also highlighted that there would be opportunities through RRTPs for data from local health boards to help local authorities to manage a post Covid-19 response.

Action:

  • Officials to circulate Shelter Scotland’s Empty Homes Partnership update to members (SG officials).
  • Catriona and Ruth Robin to liaise regarding hospital discharge and supporting a national learning system (SG and Ruth Robin).

7. Domestic abuse and wider experiences of homelessness

Jo introduced this item and started by highlighting women and children’s experiences of domestic abuse during the pandemic. Jo wanted members to understand that it is important to realise that Covid-19 hasn’t caused an increase in domestic abuse, it has always been there. It has caused an intensification of the abuse and manipulation making it incredibly difficult for women to make contact with support networks as they are always there with them due to lockdown restrictions.

SWA welcomed the proactive work undertaken by SG equalities unit to reconfigure support and provide other ways to allow women to access support.

There are concerns around the release of prisoners as perpetrators aren’t being detained over night or having bail conditions to help alleviate impact of Covid-19, which has risks attached.

Likewise, the closure of schools has had an impact and the potential of harm towards children living in an abusive household could increase.

Stalking and harassment has increased, with the access to children being used by abusers as a way of further control and/or abuse.

The easing of restrictions is allowing women and children to seek support, which has led to an increase in calls for refuge, emergency accommodation and removing a partner and getting support to stay in their own home. Sofa surfing has increased, partially because there is an increase in women coming to Scotland from England.

The capacity of refuges has shrunk in response to the outbreak and some women may need to wait between 8 and 18 months for a home. There are also major concerns around NRPF and access to support.

Allocations were frozen, but women can now start to move on and free up refuge space for others coming in. However, there is a lack of priority given to this group at the moment as they are seen as already being in suitable accommodation. Overall, the system has not responded well to this group and things need to move quicker.

There is emerging evidence that suggests that the crisis has exacerbated the inequalities that this group faces. The EQIA needs to take account of all of this. There are gaps in this evidence that we need to fill to allow us to respond to the needs of women and children

Janice Stevenson advised members that there are similar issues for LGBT community and they have had the same experiences during this time and it’s equally as hard for them to seek support. There has been a distinct lack of services and support for this group for variety of reasons and the standard ways they reach out has been also been significantly reduced and restricted due to the pandemic.

Ruth suggested that there needs to be a routine option of EQIA in all of this work as this will help us understand how to mitigate some of these risks. The evidence base will be really important in having all partners come to the table to respond.

The Minister stated that it is important to ensure EQIAs become the norm across the board and are not just tick box exercises.

Shea asked if the working group on protecting children from assault was still meeting. The Minister asked officials to check and feed back to Shea.

The Minister suggested it would also be useful to find out about the wider work that was going on across the SG and feed back to HPSG.

Gordon advised that Shelter are doing a piece of work on housing inequalities and those with protected characteristics and this could feed in to this work.

Action:

  • Officials to feed back to Shea on the children, young people and prevention of assault working group meetings (SG officials).

8. Everyone Home Collective: Ending the Need for Night Shelter and Hotel Provision

Jon Sparkes welcomed The Collective’s practical approach and route maps and stated that it is clear that night shelters cannot be removed completely as over 1600 people needed them last winter. They are no solution but he does recognise that this isn’t going to be an overnight change. The route map is about making the system work in a smooth and joined up way and highlights where a clear pathway is needed. The overnight rapid rehousing centre is a great innovation and a good way to transition to something else.

Gordon highlighted the failure to accommodate rates. Gatekeeping is causing issues and pushing people towards night shelters. The third sector is responding to need, but we must ensure that legal duties are adhered to.

Jon agreed that this issue is not just for third sector, this is for everyone to help with and work together on. What is proposed by The Collective is a nod in the direction of the Finland model – and stays should be rare, brief and non-recurrent.  If someone has to resort to one of these centres, it should be a one way street to permanent housing.

Lorraine noted the good work on development of rapid access accommodation with wraparound support, but added that rough sleeping was climbing again now that lockdown is easing.  The main concerns are severe mental health issues and associated addictions.

The Minister recognised the need for accommodation with immediate access, but stated he wants something totally different in future. The hotel response has been fantastic, but this is not a solution. He suggested that it would be helpful to understand the turning point for those who have accepted help.

Viki wants members to also consider the impact of the closure of night shelters on women experiencing domestic abuse. 

Gordon pointed out that night shelters should not be needed, even as a last resort. Enforcement and regulation of the law should be enough to avoid the need for these. Regulatory failure that prompts this need, so we need to engage with the regulator about what other levels of enforcement is needed to ensure system is robust.

The Minister highlighted that we don’t want anyone to think night shelters are inevitable and whilst we will speak to the regulator about this issue, we don’t want legislative change unless it’s absolutely required. He reminded members that night shelters also attract people who are not homeless, as some attend to mitigate the impact of social isolation.

9. Everyone Home Collective: No Recourse to Public Funds

Lorraine McGrath advised that the paper this is still a draft. Local authorities will need to look at their own locality and consider their response and it is important for this group to keep the pressure on the UK Government.

Gordon advised that Shelter are working with the Scottish Refugee Council to identify gaps in legal frameworks.

Lorraine highlighted that we need to ensure that people know their rights and don’t self-stigmatise.

The Minister said that the public is also becoming more aware of this issue, which may help the UK Government to see the importance of changing its approach.

Cllr Whitham said that this paper will be discussed at the COSLA Community Wellbeing Board.

10. Health and Homelessness

Michael Crook from the SG Health Improvement: Drugs Deaths and Harm Prevention Team presented a paper and provided members with an update on work since the meeting in March.  He highlighted that a lot had been done since March to mitigate the impact of pandemic. The focus now is on what we can learn from these changes and what we can build on to improve service delivery.

Cllr Whitham advised that the change in flexibility in approach to prescribing is something that should be kept, as it has helped a lot.

Lorraine agreed and said that a huge amount of positive steps were taken, including threshold prescribing and moving to 7 day dispensing. It would also be helpful to have some of this in the rapid access centres and at the frontline of homelessness services provision. Simon Community are also keen to explore support for prisoners following release.

Street begging is climbing again as we come out of lockdown as more members of the public are becoming visible again and this will have an impact on substance abuse, which is likely to increase. This will lead to chaotic behaviour and disengagement with frontline services and substance abuse services. We need to consider how to prevent this.

Ruth highlighted the need to think about links with mental health too in relation to hard edges work, as we can’t look at addiction in isolation to mental health.

11. SFHA Update on Homelessness Prevention Fund

Sally Thomas gave a verbal update on the status of this work. She advised members that the fund is about preventing homelessness and sustaining tenancies and that SFHA have refreshed the paper that was brought to the meeting in March in light of the pandemic. This is under consideration by SG colleagues.

Cllr Whitham suggested that it would be good to see this turned around as quickly as possible.

12. AOB and close

Sally said that SFHA is meeting with the Mears Director of Operations to see what can be done to improve the situation following the incident in Glasgow. An update will be brought to a future meeting.

The next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday 8 September 2020.