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Publication - Minutes

Homelessness Prevention and Strategy Group minutes: March 2021

Published: 16 Mar 2021
Date of meeting: 9 Mar 2021
Date of next meeting: 8 Jun 2021

Minutes of the Homelessness Prevention and Strategy Group meeting, held in March 2021.

Published:
16 Mar 2021
Homelessness Prevention and Strategy Group minutes: March 2021

Attendees and apologies

Attendees

  • Kevin Stewart MSP (Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning; Co-Chair)
  • Laura Caven, COSLA
  • Alison Watson, Shelter Scotland
  • Sally Thomas, SFHA
  • Lorraine McGrath, Simon Community Scotland
  • Jon Sparkes, Crisis
  • Sabrina Galella, A Way Home Scotland/Rock Trust Coalition
  • Shea Moran, A Way Home Scotland/Aff the Streets
  • Janice Stevenson, LGBT Youth Scotland
  • Gavin Yates, Homeless Action Scotland
  • Jo Ozga, Scottish Women’s Aid
  • Neil Hamlet, NHS Fife
  • Angie Wood, Aberdeenshire Health and Social Care Partnership
  • David Pentland, EHT Change Team
  • Derek Jaffray, EHT Change Team
  • Shelly Coyne, EHT Change Team
  • Joyce Juma-Phiri, EHT Change Team
  • Janine Kellett, Scottish Government
  • Melanie Goodfellow, Scottish Government
  • Karen Grieve, Scottish Government
  • Ruth Whatling, Scottish Government
  • Marion Gibbs, Scottish Government
  • Kerry Shaw, Scottish Government
  • Matt Howarth, Scottish Government

Apologies

  • Cllr Kelly Parry, COSLA (Community Wellbeing Spokesperson; Co-Chair)
  • John Mills, ALACHO
  • Angela Keith, SOLACE

Items and actions

1. Welcome and introductions

Mr Stewart welcomed everyone to the meeting and thanked them for joining the call, particularly those who were representing the Change Team.

He let members know that as Cllr Whitham has now left her role at COSLA, Cllr Parry will be joining as co-chair. However, she was unable to join this meeting due to other diary commitments. Angela Constance, the newly appointed Minister for Drugs Policy, had also been invited but was unable to attend as she was called to appear at the health committee. 

As there was a full agenda, members were advised that the link to the published minutes from the last meeting in December had already been circulated and any changes were to be sent directly to Melanie to amend.

2. Regular updates

Jon Sparkes and Lorraine McGrath were invited to give brief updates on the work being progressed by the Everyone Home Collective. Jon started by updating members on phasing out night shelters and the opening of rapid rehousing welcome centres over the winter months. The welcome centres have operated really well and move on has been quite rapid. A snap shot of the Glasgow welcome centre as of last night showed that there were 16 people staying overnight. Seven of these people are seeking asylum, three are going through the process to secure settled status and three were planning to return home to their own country. This means 13 people have migration related issues to work through and highlights the importance of working with the UK Government to address these matters, particularly in light of the closure of the Glasgow welcome centre at the end of this month.

Mr Stewart advised the group that he has also had discussions with Bethany Christian Trust who have a small number of people using the welcome centre in Edinburgh. There is work underway with the Minister for Mental Health and Minister for Drugs Policy to work together and join up mental health and addiction services to help remove barriers to accessing the right support. Derek Jaffray then asked the minister about the situation in Aberdeen. The minister assured the group that rough sleeping numbers were very low across Scotland and that those who were rough sleeping were engaging with services.

Lorraine noted the very positive multi-agency working that was taking place.  She expressed her disappointment that there was no mention of homelessness in the independent review of adult social care despite a submission from HPSG members highlighting the importance of homelessness in the review. The minister set out three points for officials to follow up:

1. send a note to the review secretariat

2. send a note to Ms Freeman about this, including that our hope and expectation is that submissions made by the sector are taken account of in the SG response

3. ensure that the SG takes cognisance of the considerations in its response

Marion Gibbs gave an update on the latest meeting of the RRTP sub-group in John Mills’ absence. This update covered funding for RRTPs and how support for domestic abuse survivors would be part of these plans. Marion also advised that the next RRTP co-ordinators’ meeting will be held in May and further updates can be brought to the group following this.

Marion then provided an update on Housing First. Work was underway on scaling up the programme and Homeless Network Scotland (HNS) had developed and consulted on a national framework model, which is being launched at their conference on 23 March. Work is also underway with HNS to evaluate the scale-up of Housing First across Scotland.

Alison Watson asked if it would be possible for a ‘deep dive’ or report to be shared with HPSG which shows the national picture of the impact and progress of the transition to rapid rehousing. Jon agreed that this would be helpful and also asked for something similar on Housing First. Marion indicated that quarterly monitoring of Housing First across Scotland is being introduced from April and HPSG will be kept informed of progress.  She also highlighted that an informal survey had found that the majority of councils were not using unsuitable accommodation.

Jo Ozga asked for some more information on Equality Impact Assessments (EQIAs) and their role in RRTPs. Marion advised that the EQIAs are owned by local authorities and we cannot be too directive. Jo highlighted the duties under the public sector equality duty and said that we should think about these duties when we make funding decisions.. Jo also highlighted changes to procurement arrangements for temporary accommodation in Edinburgh City Council which she sees as linked to lack of equality emphasis in RRTPs. The minister asked officials to provide more information about this.

David Pentland was then invited to give an update on behalf of the Change Team. A paper covering this update was shared with members ahead of the meeting. He also raised concerns around the new funding announced in January by the First Minister to address the drugs deaths crisis and the fact that most will go to alcohol and drug partnerships, which could mean that those people with addiction problems who are experiencing homelessness miss out as not all engage with drugs services. The minister asked officials to address this with Ms Constance and members will be given an update at a future meeting.

Janine Kellett reminded members that one of the commitments in the updated action plan was for local authorities to carry out regular audits of the numbers and needs of people in emergency and temporary accommodation and to share summaries of these audits with HPSG. This commitment has not been forgotten but it makes sense to wait until the homelessness statistics are published on 23 March.  The first update will be given by Cllr Parry at the next meeting in June. We also committed to publishing an implementation plan to respond to the recommendations of the domestic abuse pathway group and work is underway to deliver this.

Finally, Janine advised members that an invitation had been extended to Kevin Foster MP, Minister for Future Borders and Immigration, to join a future HPSG meeting to discuss the consequences of the UK government’s policy on people with NRPF and showcase the work that was being done in Scotland to support this group. 

ACTION:

  • SG officials will provide the minister with more information on the EQIA role in RRTPs and the ECC temporary accommodation procurement plans.
  • Officials will draft a letter for Mr Stewart to send to Ms Constance about the funding to address drugs deaths and how we ensure it also supports people with experience of homelessness and addiction.
  • Officials to prepare a note to go to the adult social care review secretariat and also to Jeane Freeman to ensure that homelessness is part of the Scottish Government response to the report.

3. An update on links between Homelessness and Drugs Policy

The minister advised members that he and his officials have been working closely with Ms Constance and drugs policy colleagues to strengthen the links between housing and addiction. This has provided good opportunities to build on work that was already underway. The minister asked for members to send on any relevant information from frontline services that could be included in these on-going conversations. Ms Constance has been given more details on local partnerships which highlight the importance of joining up housing and addictions services, as well as the important role of RRTPs and Housing First in tackling these issues.

The minister reminded members that recently published experimental figures of drugs and homeless deaths shows the importance of working together as we move forward. He went on to highlight the Harm Reduction paper from Healthcare Improvement Scotland (HIS), which was shared with members in advance of the meeting and sets out the importance of this work. The group found this paper really useful and the minister thanked Ruth Robin for this work. He asked members to feed back their thoughts to officials.

Lorraine commented on the separation she sees between homelessness and ADPs, and that the good work ongoing in harm reduction services is not visible in the addiction communities.  Lorraine advised that raising the profile of the work done by the homelessness sector was necessary to prevent drug and addiction related harms.

David highlighted that recent figures show a worrying increase in deaths linked to benzodiazepines recently in Edinburgh and asked the minister to raise this with Ms Constance. He also raised concerns around statutory pay scales in the voluntary sector compared to the statutory sector. Marion advised that HNS are currently doing a review of frontline service salaries and officials will ask HNS for details of this to share with the minister. 

Alison raised concerns around the loss of Housing Benefit when an individual is in a residential rehab, which can lead to the loss of a tenancy or property. Individuals are then released in to homelessness, so it is important that this gap is closed. The minister advised that he is well aware of this problem and he and Ms Constance are committed to resolving the matter.

Laura Caven then gave update on Cllr Parry’s behalf. Laura highlighted that suicide prevention was an important part of tackling homelessness and substance misuse and that continuing to work with mental health services, Public Health Scotland and HIS would be crucial.

Angie Wood suggested that there are opportunities to address these issues through the response to the adult social care review report and that Chief Officers are keen to work with partners to see what this could look like and how collaboration could be prioritised. Lorraine highlighted again that she was disappointed there was no reference made to homelessness in the published report and there was no explanation as to why the HPSG contribution was not considered. Matt advised that there are references to homelessness and complex needs in the engagement report and that the link to homelessness through reference to complex needs in the main report could be inferred here, but it was agreed by all members that a formal note was sent to Jeane Freeman and the secretariat as outlined in agenda item 2.

ACTION:

  • Members to share views on harm reduction paper with officials, who will share this with Ruth Robin and colleagues at HIS.
  • Officials will obtain details of the HNS pay review work for the minister.

4. Prevention Duty working group report and discussion

Ruth Whatling introduced this item, thanked everyone for their input and highlighted some key recommendations in the report, which align with those put forward by the Prevention Commission and HARSAG. The report highlights that the proposed legislative changes are vital, but also that effective implementation will be crucial. National guidance, training, shift in culture and effective join up will form part of the next steps and on-going work. Monitoring the impact of change to the system has to be well thought through and taken into consideration as the recommendations are implemented. The recommendations are now under consideration and support from HPSG as the work progresses is important. The minister is attending the prevention event being held by Crisis on 18 March to raise awareness around homelessness prevention, including the report.

Sally Thomas then offered some reflections on the report and thanked Suzanne Fitzpatrick for her input to this work. The report calls for a more integrated, coherent, consistent and continuous system that is stronger, wider and more joined up. The recommendations involving social landlords, which look to formalise duties, are very specific and helpful, and the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations will work with Simon Community Scotland and Crisis on this.

Laura Caven also gave an update on behalf of the COSLA Community and Wellbeing Board, who considered a draft report in January. The Board were supportive of the general direction of the report but would like to see more consultation with health and social care colleagues, highlighting the role of the NHS and Integrated Joint Boards. The Board have also asked to see more upstream prevention, such as welfare and anti-poverty measures and work within schools, although they realise that this was not the focus of this review and that more work and discussion is taking place as we move forward.

Jon Sparkes highlighted to members that this report won’t end homelessness on its own but allows Scotland to take the next crucial step. He noted that this builds on increasing choice and control and that it was important to ensure there are no unintended consequences or that existing rights were undermined. This sits at the heart of the most advanced homelessness prevention measures in the world and it is important to recognise that. Alison agreed with this and has highlighted Shelter Scotland’s main areas to the Prevention Review Group directly.

The Change Team wanted to highlight to members that they found being part of the Prevention Review Group and helping to design policy a very positive experience.

Neil Hamlet wanted to ensure the duty to ask anyone who enters any health care setting if they have a home to be released to was incorporated as part of the routine admission process.

Lorraine highlighted the importance of language and that work needs to continue to change both public and professional perceptions. Not everyone will understand homelessness terminology and nuances and its impact in the same way those working in the sector will.

The minister highlighted that although primary legislation is required, it is important ensure this is adaptable in case of unintended impacts. It will be important not to dilute the recommendations and getting this balance right will take time.

5. Research on housing insecurity and hidden homelessness

Janine outlined that the aim of this research is to understand who we are talking about, who is most affected and how they are affected. It is important to engage with people we aren’t reaching at the moment and to use this to help us and local authorities develop policy and guidance.

The group welcomed this research and suggested this group is likely to include those who are not suitably accommodated, young people, those living in hostels, women and young people who are part of the LGBT community.

The minister asked members to send any offers of support and initial thoughts to officials.

ACTION:

  • Members to send offers of support to officials.

6. eflections on the past year and future priorities

As this was the last meeting prior to the Scottish general election on 6 May, the minister wanted to take some time to reflect on the work and achievements of the group over the last year and to ensure work continues as planned regardless of the outcome of the election. The pandemic has shown where the stark inequalities in our society exists and noted that he is extremely proud of the sector and how it responded to the public health crisis. He recognised that there is still lots of work to do, but also highlighted the importance of looking at what has been achieved.

The minister reflected that the HARSAG recommendations and subsequent action plan has provided a real focus on what is required, and that HPSG has been a huge help in driving this forward. He thanked everyone for all their work and support and opened the discussion up to group for their input and thoughts.

Jon reflected his thanks back to minister and noted that delivering this work takes a joined up approach but also leadership and real commitment. His highlights include the short term achievements, such as extremely low levels of rough sleeping and a serious move away from communal night shelters. He also noted that whilst the emergency response to coronavirus was being co-ordinated, there was a broader programme of work underway to plan for a more equal and just society. He said he saw just one priority: to keep this up because it’s clearly working.

Alison noted that under the minister’s stewardship, Scotland had seen the most successful and ambitious housing supply programme and plan to end homelessness in the UK. She highlighted the need to learn from and build on this, and not to return to rough sleeping as we move out of the pandemic. She told members that it was important to recognise that the worst of the economic impact is yet to come.

Lorraine echoed the comments of other members but also recognised the support from officials to help deliver this work. She noted that mental health has to be built into our multi-agency response, and cautioned of the unintended consequences of Pathfinders as they sit outside public sector structures and don’t have the same leverage.

Sally noted that the leadership from the minister has been imperative. This has encouraged and supported leadership from within the group. She felt that taking a housing system wide approach, alongside a broader, deeper and more integrated approach including tenure, disciple and sector, was necessary, and that building on the work of current housing supply programme and using Housing to 2040 as a route map to go beyond that was important.

David and Joyce from the Change Team also thanked the minister for his leadership and for inviting them to sit on HPSG. David noted that the lived experience approach has always been facilitated from the top down, so he would like to see more of a grassroots approach, but acknowledged that this was a really good start.

The minister added that the focus should be on implementation and work that can and must be done as we move out of the pandemic. Part of this work is holding the UK Government accountable, particularly in relation to the benefits system.

Mr Stewart finished by thanking the homelessness team for their work and support, noting that this has been challenging at times, but could only be done with the support of the whole team.

7. AOB and close

The minister alerted members to some key announcements, including the changes to the ban on evictions and the extension of the Tenant Hardship Loan Fund and the Private Rent Sector Landlord COVID-19 Loan Scheme.

Sabrina Galella also advised members that the youth homelessness prevention pathway will be launched on Monday 22 March.

The next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday 8 June, between 09.30 and 11.30 am.