WITH the government poised to publish their plan to tackle homelessness next week, Crisis and the Simon Community Scotland believe it will transform the issue. They explain how the plan was put together and why they believe it could be an opportunity to end homelessness for good. John Sparkes and Lorraine McGrath report.

TO say that this is a momentous point in the journey to end homelessness in Scotland is not overstating it. It will cement Scotland’s position as a world leader in securing the human right to housing that every citizen should have.

In October 2017, Kevin Stewart, Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning, brought together a Homelessness & Rough Sleeping Action Group. We were both asked to participate, and the other members of the group came from charities working to support homeless people across Scotland as well as academics, legal experts and representatives from faith groups, housing providers and local government.

The task at hand was no mean feat, with four questions to focus on; the first being to tackle the immediate need to support more rough sleepers during the upcoming winter. The others looked to the longer-term; how to end rough sleeping, how to transform the use of temporary accommodation and finally how to end homelessness once and for all.

We parked the needs and wants of our own organisations at the door and tackled the task with enthusiasm and co-operation. We were also given the space, and the support from civil servants, to put forward a bold set of proposals that will transform the homelessness system across the country.

Crucially, we never thought that 12 people round a table would have all the answers, so all our deliberations were informed by a comprehensive review of the evidence, commissioned research, and by listening to hundreds of frontline workers, policy makers and others who know what works. Most importantly, every decision that was made was informed by the people who understand the experience of being homeless the most, those who have lived it.

Overall, through the ‘Aye We Can’ project, led by Glasgow Homelessness Network, we spoke with 425 people from across Scotland to hear what helped in ending their homelessness and what didn’t. Going forward it’s so important that the voice of people with experience of homelessness is used to test the new approaches and changes in the system to make sure they’re fit for purpose.

In total, by June 2018 we made 70 recommendations to the Scottish Government – all of which they accepted in principle. Before the plan has even been published, the Scottish Government have committed to a housing-led approach and councils are working on rapid re-housing transition plans which will completely change the way they respond to homelessness by prioritising permanent, mainstream housing and the support people need, rather than focusing on temporary accommodation.

Our hope is that the full plan will be as well received and that agencies across the public and third sector will see it as a catalyst which allows them to play their part in ending the injustice of homelessness across the country. We have the best chance of ending homelessness when all public services are empowered to act, and when there is no ‘wrong door’ that homeless people walk through to access help. This is particularly true for tackling rough sleeping.

We would like to see firm commitments and timescales on several key issues. These include a legal prevention duty to prevent people becoming homeless in the first place, and removing the restrictions of intentionality and local connection. These legal changes are about removing any arbitrary barriers to help and making it easier to act early in preventing the problem.

For all of this to work the whole plan must be embedded with an approach focused on the people affected. It is really important that we put as much effort into the culture change that enables professional staff to flexibly work with people who are experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness, as we do into changing the rules, regulations and laws; it really needs both. We’d also like to see a commitment in this parliamentary year to equalise the law on the use of unsuitable emergency accommodation so that after one week no homeless person is forced to live in appalling conditions with inhumane restrictions.

And, of course, housing is important too. We can’t end homelessness without housing. The Government is already committed to building 35,000 homes for social rent in 5 years. This is a great start, but will need to continue across political cycles and beyond elections if we are to fulfil the right to housing that everybody should have.

Reporting on progress should also come with a set of bold targets on how more people’s homelessness is being ended across the country, the Scottish Government must be accountable for delivery of the plan, and the Scottish Parliament must retain oversight on this in a very transparent way. We’ve seen a unique political support for the work at the highest level of government, and this has to continue.

Picture a Scotland where homelessness doesn’t exist, where nobody sleeps rough or in a place not meant for human habitation, where anyone in emergency or temporary accommodation has a plan to move forward to a mainstream, permanent home, where no-one becomes homeless when they leave an institution like prison, hospital or the care system, and where everyone who is at risk of homelessness gets the help they need to stop it happening. In short, a Scotland where homelessness can only ever by rare, very brief, and not repeated.

This is a Scotland that is within our reach.

The publication later this week of the Scottish Government’s plan to tackle homelessness is a great opportunity. It is an opportunity to halt homelessness in its track and instead, set Scotland on a road to being a nation that ends homelessness for good.

Jon Sparkes is chief executive of Crisis and Chair of the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group. Lorraine McGrath is chief executive of Simon Community Scotland and Streetwork.