HOMELESSNESS should be treated as a public health issue if it is to eradicated in Scotland’s largest city, according to the new director of a unique alliance.

The Glasgow Alliance to End Homelessness is on a mission to reach that aim by 2030. Made up of several agencies and organisations across the city, it has recently appointed a new director, Jack Rillie who due to take up the role later this month.

He believes that attitudes need to change and that as the begin to tackle homelessness they can learn from the example of the long-established Scottish Violence Reduction  which saw Glasgow turn round it’s knife crime culture.

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Before joining the Alliance, Mr Rillie most recently held a position as Director of Operations at youth homelessness charity, Rock Trust and has previously worked across the third sector supporting care experienced and neuro-diverse people in a range of residential and community settings.

Appointed just a few weeks ago, Mr Rillie says he was attracted to the role because of its uniqueness.

Homelessness in its many forms is something the Glasgow Alliance wants to tackleChanging attitudes of people when they see rough sleepers will be part of the strategy

“There is not another homeless alliance in Scotland or the UK. I am passionate about ending homelessness and I think this is the way forward,” he said. “My career has been in the third sector in health, social care and education and I think this is such an opportunity to do something different. It is a bold statement of saying ending homelessness by 2030 and that’s not to say that it will be ended entirely by 2030, but what we want to be able to say is that if it still happens that it’s rare, brief and non-recurring.

“We want to eradicate rough sleeping and if people do become homeless we would want it to be a very short and temporary experience. It is not just about one organisation trying to do this, this is about transforming the way services are commissioned across the city.

“Glasgow City Council has acknowledged and accepted the absolute issue that they have with homelessness in the city and understand that they have to do something very different with it. I think it is a bold statement from them or any local authority to put forward.”

He is already drawing inspiration from the way the Scottish Violence Reduction unit, led by former senior detective John Carnochan for several years, changed the knife crime culture. The VRU initiative offered education, health services, careers advice, social services and diversionary projects to the most vulnerable gang members. 

Homelessness in its many forms is something the Glasgow Alliance wants to tackleJack Rillie takes up his new post later this month

In 2004/05 there were 137 homicides in Scotland. In just over 10 years this number had dropped to 62, attempted murders dropped from 828 to 317, and serious assaults fell by almost half. 

“Take the way the violence reduction unit looked at violence in the city of Glasgow and the stain that it put on the city in terms of the bad reputation. They said let’s look at this as a public health issue so they transformed the way that they dealt with violence and now Glasgow is held up as a beacon of somewhere that says this is what can happen when you take a more proactive and more insightful way of doing things and delivering services. They completely flipped it on its head and it is a real positive. I want that to be the same for homelessness where the city can stand up and say yes we do have an issue with homelessness but in a few years’ time we want to turn round and say how we have dealt with it and this is best practice. It has to be treated as a public health issue.”

In 2021/22, Glasgow City Council received 7006 homeless applications. The current caseload for the homelessness service is 4682 Homelessness Applications at the end of June 2022 and there are 2910 households in temporary accommodation.

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On the back of these figures Mr Rillie believes it is time to change the cultural narrative around homelessness.

“For me there is still too much of a focus on rough sleeping. Homelessness can be so many different things," he added. "For young people it can be sofa surfing and there is a lot of hidden homelessness as well. There are people who are stuck in bed and breakfasts and hostels, they might not be rough sleepers but they are still experiencing massive disadvantages. There is a lot of work to do around our cultural perceptions of homelessness and what that is to people and also we need an understanding about why people have become homeless. Changing the imagery around it is also important. A picture of a rough sleeper under a bridge is not helpful, we need to think of homeless people as individuals.

“People can be very negative or have stereotypes about seeing a homeless person and almost have an opinion without knowing what the cause was. None of us can know that  - everyone has their own complex story and some of it is to do with horrendous trauma that someone has experienced in their childhood. Some of it is about poverty or someone may have drug and alcohol addiction issues. If you are homeless you are far more likely to have a mental health issue so you can see there is a need to join up several services and how we can best support people.”

Homelessness in its many forms is something the Glasgow Alliance wants to tackleA volunteer helps out at the Homeless Project Scotland in Glasgow

Glasgow Alliance to End Homelessness is collaboration of support providers and people with personal experience of homelessness. Mr Rillie said the important structure of the alliance is that it involves people with lived experience of homelessness as they can bring something unique, but says theirs is not just a tokenistic involvement. They are fundamentally part of the alliance, he says.

One thing that has always stayed with him was the reality for a person, who had accessed the services in his previous role, who created a kettle cookbook.

“He dubbed himself the Kettle Chef. In one way it was positive because he was being proactive, but essentially it was a cookbook about how to cook meals with a kettle as that was the only thing he had in temporary accommodation to cook with,” said Mr Rillie.

“If you are in temporary accommodation you have very limited cooking facilities. We know that nutrition is linked to health and wellbeing and if you are then forced to buy things like packet soups and cooking sausages in a kettle that’s not going to help and why should we think that is acceptable? There is the knock-on impact with temporary accommodation – the sense of shame and embarrassment about it and the diet, health and wellbeing. It is a huge issue and one that we should get really angry about.”

Homelessness in its many forms is something the Glasgow Alliance wants to tackleWhile soup kitchens and volunteers have good intentions, Mr Rillie hopes there will come a time when they are no longer needed

The partners of the Alliance are Aspire, Crossreach, Sacro, The Mungo Foundation, Right There, The Salvation Army, Wheatley Care, Glasgow Health & Social Care Partnership (HSCP) along with Glasgow Homeless Involvement and Feedback Team (GHIFT), Homeless Network Scotland and Glasgow City Council.

And Mr Rillie will be working with the Alliance Leadership Team to transform services and drive change to improve outcomes for the citizens of Glasgow to end homelessness.

While there are a number of organisations ready to offer help such as the Homeless Project Scotland, Mr Rillie hopes there comes a time when these organisations are no longer needed as it would be a positive change.

“If we’re are still having to do soup kitchens by 2030 that isn’t something we would be proud of,” he added. “My ambition would be that those services are no longer required.”

The Alliance was formed in May 2020 at a time when bizarrely an almost instant solution to homelessness had been found due to the country being plunged into lockdown and rough sleeping virtually ended overnight.

“Within a couple of weeks, initiatives in lockdown more or less ended rough sleeping in major cities. People in Glasgow or Edinburgh who were rough sleepers were accommodated in hotels or temporary places, but it shows you what can happen when there is a will and people work together,” added Mr Rillie. “Covid brought so many organisations together and yes there was a huge workload and people worked flat out, but things were accomplished and very quickly. For years we struggled with the issue and then all of a sudden we can do it, so I think there is a lot to be learned from that.”

Mr Rillie acknowledges that there will be challenges and there will be mistakes, but he wants to get to the position where they can capture what they have learned.

“We want to ensure that through our own research we can pass that on to other local authorities across the UK and we can say there is a different way of doing this,” he added. “Homelessness is such a diverse area with so many different causes, that it takes an alliance to deal with it.”

Mr Rillie believes the alliance is all about relationships and he wants to meet partner agencies.

“For me it will be about meeting drug and alcohol practitioners, those on the front line and working with the NHS, police, fire and ambulance as they are our first responders and a lot of the time they are seeing those who are most at risk and are experiencing homelessness.

“I want to build those relationships with a vast number of groups across the city. That’s my immediate priority. We don’t want anyone to experience homelessness. I think if were able to say we had eradicated homelessness it would show that we are a progressive society in Glasgow and it would do wonders for the city. It would a feather in our cap as an international city in terms of sharing best practice and be held up as a city that has made a difference.”