1. Welcome and introductions
Mr Stewart welcomed everyone to the meeting with particular thanks for joining a week earlier than planned. The Minister welcomed Jo Ozga to her first meeting, who has agreed to join the Group on a permanent basis, and Viki Fox who is representing the Change Team. And finally to Alison Watson who replaces Gordon MacRae as the representative from Shelter Scotland.
The Minister started by extending his deep felt gratitude to everyone who has come together to transform homelessness services and support vulnerable people at this extremely difficult time. He highlighted that he was really impressed by the partnership working he had seen across Scotland and wanted to both recognise it, and to build on it, going forward.
2.Successes and learning to date
The Minister wanted to start by asking members to outline what they think the key achievements have been since the last meeting on 10 March, but also wanted to understand what work would be needed going forward to ensure this continues. He asked for a particular focus on rough sleeping, the £350 million funding package that was announced in March and the £1 million funding for hotel accommodation for former rough sleepers in Glasgow and Edinburgh .
Cllr Whitham echoed Mr Stewarts positive comments and wants to look at how we can accelerate the recovery plan. Cllr Whitham highlighted that we are likely to see homelessness presentations increase as we move through the recovery phases and supporting women and children and moving people from temporary accommodation to permanent homes are two key areas that will require support. RRTPs can help the recovery and some of the work that was planned for years 2 and 3 of these plans may need to be brought forward and be reworked to help deliver outcomes. The biggest challenge will be a limited housing stock and a lot of work will be needed to move things forward. This crisis has shown that homelessness doesn’t just sit with housing and people are beginning to understand how poverty impacts on homelessness.
A number of members highlighted how they had seen an increase in partnership working across boundaries and organisations and noted that this has played a huge role in helping to respond to the outbreak. The Group was keen to see this continue going forward through recovery and beyond. A number of members also noted that digital access and utilising available technology had been really helpful in allowing them to continue to deliver their services. This was also a challenge for those who did not have access.
Lorraine explained that Simon Community are currently supporting around 320 people in three hotels, which is helping to tackle the rough sleeping issue in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Some of those individuals are now moving on to temporary furnished flats and the throughput is better in Glasgow than it is in Edinburgh at the moment, albeit that most in Glasgow are moving on to B&Bs. However they are also seeing a lot of wrap around support in Edinburgh and the relationship with public health teams there have been very helpful and they are happy to report that they have seen zero positive cases. Lorraine also highlighted that there have only been four people in Glasgow and 15 people in Edinburgh that have not been able to accept what has been offered, all known by name and circumstance and in need of intensive case management and new, personalised and innovative options. Another major concern is around EEA nationals (currently 50% of those accommodated in hotels) and those with NRPF and what will happen with this group of people as we move through recovery. Supporting repatriation is going to be an important part of the response.
Another key piece of work to think about going forward will be how to manage public perceptions and compassion, particularly for those with addiction issues. People with addictions have not had access to money from people through begging which means they have had to address their addictions and we do not want to see this change as lockdown restrictions ease. Supporting those with complex mental health needs remains a priority. One key piece of work that is underway with Edinburgh Cyrenians and Crisis is a pilot scheme for a rapid rehousing pathway into PRS accommodation from the hotels, with support from the Scottish Government, to capitalise the opportunity that is being created by a shift from short term letting to longer term and the affordability that has been created through the increase in LHA rates.
Jo Ozga highlighted that Scottish Women’s Aid (SWA) have not seen an escalation in partnership working, but there is some good work happening to support this vulnerable group, particularly with Fife Council. SWA have seen an increase in the numbers of women looking for accommodation and expect this to continue as lockdown is relaxed. She highlighted concerns of an escalation in seriousness of abuse and refuges are currently full, which will put further pressure on housing stock. There are people ready to move into social housing but are unable to access their accommodation or the right support, which keeps them in the refuge or in an unsafe home. Some are having offers of accommodation withdrawn, which other members note is likely to be unlawful. Abusers are using the pandemic to control women more, but there is an increase in women being referred on to temp accommodation through the national helpline. SWA staff are working with women and children with coronavirus, which is difficult to manage and the system is not responding appropriately to this issue. The main concern from SWA is what’s coming as we move through the recovery phases of the route map out of the crisis.
The Minister recognised that this is an extremely difficult time and highlighted the resource that had been targeted to try and support this. The Minister asked Jo to link in with officials with examples of where tenancies have been withdrawn that were allocated before lockdown and advised the group that a joint letter had been sent to social landlords highlighting the prioritising of allocations. Cllr Whitham also suggested that we must ensure that Social Landlords are following through on the Make A Stand pledge.
Jon Sparkes highlighted that the frontline is more empowered than ever to make decisions and deliver services, with technology playing a huge role in this. Members agreed that the removal of grade hierarchies has really helped this. Members also suggested that collaboration has to be one of the pillars of the recovery plan and as this has worked so well it is likely to continue, but must include all partners and be encouraged and embedded. Some of the structures and responses have had to change to suit the emergency response, but this will mean that the transition to recovery will need to be carefully managed. Prevention work, RRTPs, Housing First and utilising both the Social and Private Rented Sectors will help move things forward and accelerate the delivery of the Ending Homelessness Together Action Plan, which is still the right plan to end homelessness in Scotland.
Alison Watson noted that the Scottish Government had helped the third sector to support great initiatives to respond to the crisis but it would be helpful to understand this from a local authority perspective and identify the barriers they have faced in leading this. Shelter Scotland’s main concern is the cliff edge that people may face if evictions begin after the 6 month ban that has been put in place which was welcomed by Shelter but the wish it to continue longer than 6 months. Alison also highlighted the challenges with supply issue in Edinburgh and the desire to regulate the number of AirBnB properties that may reappear. She also highlighted the need for continued focus to ensure that Rough Sleepers and those with NRPF are protected, as well as a concerted focus on supporting domestic abuse victims.
The Minister highlighted that the threat of eviction is something that is being considered by the Scottish Government as part of our wider recovery plan and will be managed to ensure the right support is available.
John Mills noted that it is likely that local authorities may have been in a worse position without their RRTPs as they are a good platform for responding to the crisis and will be a useful vehicle for building on the successes we have seen. Resources will be needed to do this successfully as many have been deployed to different roles to meet the needs of this crisis. John also highlighted to members that the Chief Social Work Officer has joined Fife Council’s RRTP board.
At this point the Minister highlighted that this week (w/c 1 June) is volunteers week and the efforts of those who have stepped up during this time has to be commended.
Shea and Sabrina from the A Way Home Coalition noted that they faced some challenges with staying in touch and having limited access to the right digital technology. It is difficult to establish new relationships virtually with young people and this can lead to social isolation. This is likely to escalated if there is an increase in homelessness presentations.
The Minister has asked officials to link in with the Coalition on digital access.
SFHA were pleased to note that a lot of Housing Associations are handling over vacant properties for temp and permanent options and a large number of properties have now been handed over. The SHR return gives a useful data picture and members were informed that of 331 RSL lets in April, 216 were to homeless households. The Social Housing Resilience Group also gives a useful forum to explore issues and address these in partnership across social and private rented sectors and between Housing Associations and local authorities. They are also working on the SPS early release scheme and linking with Simon Community, Homeless Network Scotland and Shelter about what the response should be following the emergency. Supply and support are the main issues.
David Duke highlighted that the main difficulty for Street Soccer was tackling isolation, but they have used digital technology to try and tackle this issue and it appears to be working quite well. They have used player centred principles of keeping people safe, healthy and connected. Some staff have been redeployed to other roles in the community and they were also providing a large number of food packages to those most in need. Keeping connected and being flexible to people’s needs have been key achievements. A hardship fund has been set up for those who are facing an immediate crisis and a recent fundraising event has meant that they will be able to hire two Mental Health Councillors to join the team permanently. They have also provided smart phones to allow people to join in on fitness and recovery sessions over zoom; organised physically distanced ‘walk & talks’ and are working with the previous DG of Health and Social Care Paul Gray on the back to normal plan.
Viki from the Change Team provided an update for members and noted that they were seeing good collaboration too. The main concern for them is social isolation and the impact this will have on mental health. She also pointed out that it’s great that people were housed to reduce the risk of the spread of the virus, but we now need to think of how to support people moving forward. The five calls to action in the change team report highlight what needs to be considered to achieve this.
Neil Hamlet advised the Group that on 1 April, the new Public Health Scotland body was launched and done so around the response to coronavirus. He noted that it had been helpful to get guidance from them for those working in non-healthcare settings and was pleased to see an early SG response to homelessness during this crisis, following the last HPSG meeting on 10 March. He also advised the Group of Care for People. This is a subgroup of the local resilience partnerships that are a council led, multi-agency group that are helping to deal with defining and shielding for vulnerable groups. They have collected some helpful data that is shaping the response at local levels. Work on establishing test sites for those who are most vulnerable is underway and this will help to mitigate health inequalities as we move through recovery.
Homeless Action Scotland (HAS) also highlighted how effective partnership working had been in responding to the crisis and that going forward it was important to provide good quality support for those living in hotels now. Gavin noted that this is likely to get worse as we move through recovery and there were concerns around local food banks not being able to cope with demand. HAS have also undertaken some research on experiences during lockdown, which can be collated and brough back to members.
- Jo to link in with homelessness officials about her concerns on withdrawing tenancies that were allocated before lockdown.
- Officials to link in with the A Way Home Coalition on digital access.
- Officials are to share the letter sent to the UK Government regarding NRPF and draft another joint letter for the UK Government from HPSG, as agreed in the video call chat.
3. Everyone Home
The Minister asked Jon Sparkes to talk to this item on behalf of the collective. The plan was shared with members ahead of the meeting and is about where immediate priorities meet the Ending Homelessness Together action plan.
Jon highlighted that this is another good example of collaboration across the sector, with 19 organisations involved and outlines what needs to be done to aid recovery and support future work. He said that there is a strong agreement across Scotland that we cannot let people return to sleeping rough as we move in to recovery from this crisis. Having access to good responsive addictions and mental health treatment whilst in stable and high quality accommodation with support available 24 hours is where it starts. Then it is about understanding the barriers for each person and offering as much choice and control in the next steps as possible. Transitional support needs to be consistent and intensive to ensure that the stability, safety and security people have achieved is not lost despite how good the next offer of accommodation might be.
It’s important to work up new models of settled homes and offer a variety of housing options to meet the needs of everyone.
Jon did highlight that the collective recognise that there are some things out of reach of the Scottish Government as they are led by the UK Government, such as LHA rates, but we need to use what powers we do have and lobby the Government.
This is a clear offer from the collective to ensure there are actions that derive from the document and it is important to ensure we do see action rather than just see the paper as a lobbying document.
The Minister agreed that this can play a major part in aiding our recovery, but it is also important to recognise the commitment to the Action Plan, which was firmly rooted in the HARSAG recommendations. At this point he made the group aware that he had asked Jon Sparkes to reconvene this group to review the progress of the Action Plan and also the emerging recovery plan. He suggested that this was a sensible step and the findings will be reported back to HPSG who will remain the main driving force behind the recovery. As this will be a very quick piece of work there will be no changes in membership of HARSAG but the Minister is very keen to ensure gender is a key consideration and highlighted that HARSAG must take cognisance of those with lived experience. He asked members for their thoughts on this.
Shelter Scotland were fully supportive of the Everyone Home plan and are delighted to have contributed to this. Alison also stated that she would be happy to participate in HARSAG again but wanted to understand what HARSAG was going to do that HPSG could not and wanted to ensure that the needs of women and children who are victims of abuse would be considered in this review. She also outlined issues around capacity and said some clarity on the distinction between HARSAG and HPSG would help to clarify where there would be value in this exercise.
The Minister advised that he had asked for HARSAG to be reconvened because it worked so well previously and this group could undertake a quick overview of where we are and look at our recovery plan. These findings would then be brought back to HPSG to take forward.
Jo highlighted SWA’s initial concerns about HARSAG and on the Everyone Home paper. She said this illustrated some of their concerns about the lack of gendered analysis and lack of understanding of women's experiences. SWA consider that the work to date is a really good response to male rough sleeping but it doesn’t respond to the wider issues of women's homelessness including domestic abuse but also around structural inequalities that impact on women’s abilities to be housed and to maintain their housing. It is because of these concerns SWA does not want to endorse the collective's report as there is a need to understand equality better across the board, including intersectionality for women who are disabled or from minority ethnic communities. This crisis has had a disproportionate impact on women so it is even more important to look at how this impacts women now and how it will impact them going forward.
Cllr Whitham noted that the ten principles in the document are something that local authorities can sign up to. She also agreed with Jo about needing a gendered analysis and suggested that more needs to be made of prevention as a central plank of our approach.
Viki said that the change team welcomed the Everyone Home paper and noted that digital inclusion is important and helps to ensure the social links are maintained. There needs to be assurances no-one will be asked to leave their current accommodation (temporary or hotels) without other accommodation in place. Maintaining social networks was something that helped her when she was homeless.
The Minister noted the importance of listening to everyone as we move forward and reassured members that HARSAG will talk to others for their input, particularly around gender inequalities and homelessness and to ensure those with lived experience were also included.
Members were broadly content and there was agreement to reconvene HARSAG. Jon noted this would be reconvened as soon as possible and will take forward the arrangements.
- The Minister asked for a HPSG meeting that focussed on the gender issues that have been highlighted to be arranged.
4. Challenges and recovery
The Minister explained that he was keen to build on the good work that has taken place in response to the coronavirus pandemic and asked members for their thoughts on what we would need to do going forward. He also asked Cllr Whitham to lead the discussion on NRPF.
Cllr Whitham highlighted to the Group that we cannot underestimate the problem we are facing in relation to those with NRPF and that it is important to think about how we will support this group during and after recovery. There is ongoing COSLA work to ascertain how best to support the third sector efforts and identify steps we need to take to strengthen routes to statutory accommodation. We will also see new vulnerabilities emerging, including women who have suffered abuse, so it is important to be innovative. It is imperative that we use all the powers that we do have to help this group and more involvement with the third sector would help us to understand how we can actually help do this.
Jo highlighted that a key concern for SWA is the women with NRPF who are being supported right now, but will be extremely vulnerable if/when this is removed.
Members agreed that support for those with NRPF would need to be framed in the context of a human rights based approach, which would be supported by Local Government and in keeping with Scotland’s progressive legislative rights.
The Minister would like to see the UK Government deliver a compassionate response to this issue and will continue to press them for the changes that are needed. He asked members if they would be support the issuing of a joint letter from all HPSG members to the UK Government, which members agreed to.
Sally suggested that tenancy sustainment is crucial to preventing homelessness, so this has to be a key part of recovery planning.
Lorraine agreed with this point and stated that it is likely that this group would have to return to sleeping rough if we don’t take action and noted that there would need to be different solutions for different groups. One of our key challenges will be how to prevent homelessness going into an economic depression. That is why we need to focus on early warning systems, rapid response prevention and access to tenancy sustainment wherever possible.
Alison asked if it would be possible to enshrine rapid rehousing in legislation to consolidate the progress that has been made and enforce it.
The Minister explained to members that getting this into legislation will take time and there are some other priority pieces that must be put forward, such as barring orders for domestic abuse victims. It is important to get things right as quickly as we can but this is not the right time to take action on this.
Sally asked if there was anything that could be done through the £1.5 million homelessness prevention fund for Registered Social Landlords, which was paused whilst there was a focus on responding to the coronavirus outbreak. There was an agreed way forward in terms of being ready to request submissions for the money so we could tweak the criteria in the context of recovery and move forward with the fund asap.
The Minister suggested this could be considered along with the other pieces of work being done to support recovery.
Members also noted that all of the evidence around the critical role that digital inclusion and exclusion has played tells us there is a real need to wholly integrate the role of access to data in particular into rapid rehousing, as we look to accommodate anyone we need to. We should look to provide digital access and training as a priority within that. Simon Community will share their "Get Connected" report as soon as possible. It evidences overwhelming positive outcomes for people experiencing homelessness who have been enabled with digital access and connectivity.
John asked the Group if it would be possible to underpin RRTPs within Local Housing Strategy (LHS) as a requirement as secondary legislation and officials reassured Jon this was in the guidance which has a statutory grounding.
The Minister then turned to some of the points being raised in the video call chat. There are concerns about early release from prison and domestic abuse and asked for information to be fed to officials.
Jo advised that there are issues with early release from other offences which don't necessarily pick up those who may be perpetrating abuse and therefore women are not necessarily being alerted on release either.
The Minister confirmed that we were clear that this should not have been the case and that Governors were going to take this forward. Officials will get more details on this.
The Minister asked officials to feedback to the Group about the decision making around prisoner release, including where there have been difficulties that we could use as examples and maybe follow up.
- Members to provide information on concerns around early release to officials.
- SG officials to draft a letter to the UK Government on behalf of the group about NRPF.
- Officials to feedback to members on the decision-making about early release from prison in relation to how agreement was made to liberate and also decisions on vetoes.
The Minister asked members if there were any other points to raise under AOB.
Lorraine asked about the Test and Protect scheme and the potential impact on frontline services, including issues with guidance. The impact of Test and Protect without priority testing for hotels and 24 hour services in particular could be catastrophic.
The Minister agreed with this point and will send a note to Jeanne Freeman to clarify this.
Cllr Whitham suggested the Test and Protect scheme will have an impact on the pool of accommodation and the huge backlog that exists, which will have been exacerbated in the current situation. We will all need to work together across all services and options to manage this, with a key focus on lettings recovery as they will be stretched.
Members suggested that we need to buy properties on the market for sale and Heads of Housing are keen to ramp this up. Scottish Government officials are supporting local efforts to plan for this. There are also opportunities for acquisition with landlords leaving the PRS market as well as AirBnB owners unable to operate.
The Minister pointed out that we cannot just rely on the social rented sector and we need to take the opportunities we have in the Private Rented Sector and mobilise what we can in this area too. Local authorities and RSLs will have to increase allocations, potentially to around 100%, for those in urgent circumstances, such as homelessness, domestic abuse victims and those who can't stick to their original arrangements made before this crisis that they now can't follow through with. He said he was keen to take up pilot work to ensure we can do things quickly and flexibly and need to buy properties that are on the market at the moment. We will need to go at pace and won’t know everything we need just yet but this will become clear as we move through recovery phases.
Cllr Whitham pointed out that we need to recognise that there will be people who've already been allocated housing that will need to be honoured and we'll still be in a situation of perpetual backlog for a while.
The Minister said this is the time to get rid of some of the bureaucracies that people face in some areas of the country and we all need to be more flexible.
The Minister than thanked everyone for today and asked for members to pass to those on frontline his heartfelt thanks to all of them for the efforts they have continued to put in. An incredible amount of work has been done and this is a view shared by Cllr Whitham too.
The next HPSG meeting was scheduled for September but officials will organise a date towards end of July at latest.
- Officials to draft a note from Mr Stewart to Ms Freeman on test and protect for frontline service staff.
- Officials to feedback to members on the digital work that is underway.
- Officials to arrange an earlier meeting.
Attendees and apologies
Kevin Stewart MSP (Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning; Co-Chair)
Cllr Whitham, COSLA (Community Wellbeing Spokesperson; Co-Chair)
Eloise Nutbrown, COSLA
David Duke, Street Soccer Scotland
Alison Watson, Shelter Scotland
Sally Thomas, SFHA
Lorraine McGrath, Simon Community
Neil Hamlet, NHS Fife
Jon Sparkes, Crisis
Sabrina Galella, A Way Home Scotland/Rock Trust Coalition
Shea Moran, Aff the Streets
John Mills, ALACHO
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
Jacqueline Rae, Scottish Government
Angie Wood, Aberdeenshire Health and Social Care Partnership
Janice Stevenson, LGBT Youth Scotland
Peter Barry, SOLACE
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