Catherine Wilkie: Not all at equal risk of homelessness

GHA's new homes at Kingsway

GHA's new homes at Kingsway

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In modern Scotland, no one should be left without a safe, secure and stable place to call home – that is why social landlords like those in Wheatley Group exist.

We have plans to build up to 10,000 more homes across Scotland in the years ahead, and our biggest subsidiary, GHA, has spent £1.3 billion refurbishing and upgrading more than 70,000 homes.

And the Scottish Government has committed to delivering at least 50,000 affordable homes over the next five years.

But putting a roof over someone’s head is only one part of solving homelessness in modern Scotland.

Homelessness in Scotland recently hit the headlines, after Shelter Scotland called the number of people experiencing homelessness a “national badge of shame”.

Homelessness is deeply connected with wider issues like poverty, crime, addiction and poor mental health. It is simply not true to say that everyone is at equal risk of becoming homeless. We know that the most vulnerable are the most at risk.

We have to address the long-term problems that push people to the devastating crisis point of losing their home at the same time as we tackle their immediate needs, and make sure the right support is in place to help them keep their home.

That is the thinking underpinning the Housing Options approach we have used in Glasgow, which has had a major impact in preventing homelessness in the city.

The city-wide, multi-agency approach provides tailored support for people in housing need, whichever door they come to. It starts as soon as someone approaches us with a housing problem.

We work closely with partners from social work, family mediation services, employability schemes, and healthcare providers to find an early intervention to stop them from losing their home.

The Housing Options approach was piloted in North West Glasgow in early 2012 to look at ways that crisis could be prevented in the first place.

The pilot produced remarkable results: there was a 31 per cent reduction in homelessness applications – despite a 19 per cent increase in demand for homelessness services.

It has since been rolled out across the city – and we are developing a specific model for older people at risk of homelessness.

But for us, it is not a numbers game. It is about the people behind the 
statistics who are turning their lives around and realising their potential and expectations for their lives each day.

People like Derek (not his real name). He was suffering serious mental health problems following the death of his mother. He had developed a serious problem with hoarding, and was unable to clean his home. He was living in filthy conditions, with an infestation of beetles, which had spread to other flats in his block. He was in danger of losing the home he had lived in for almost all his life.

We made sure Derek got the help he needed from his GP and social work to address the mental health issues that were the root cause of his housing problems.

But we also gave him practical help to get his home in order and meet his immediate housing need. As well as thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting his home, we helped him get new 
carpets, a new kitchen and bathroom.

He is not out of the woods yet, but a safe, secure home that he takes pride in, and a trusting relationship with housing, healthcare and social work, is transforming his life.

The right support at the right time meant he could hold on to his home and make a go of the rest of his life.

A home gives people like Derek the confidence and stability they need to go into employment, education, training or volunteering, and get involved in their community. And in turn, these things help prevent future crisis.

No one is under any illusions. We face huge challenges to our aim of ensuring that everyone has a secure, stable home – not least of which are changes to the welfare system, which could be devastating for some of the most vulnerable people in our 
communities.

We need to work together to solve the underlying issues that drive people to the devastating crisis point of losing their home.

Homelessness doesn’t need to be a way of life. People can and do recover every day. The success of the Housing Options approach in Glasgow shows that by working hand in hand with people at risk of losing their homes, and with partners at a local level we can make that vision a reality.

Catherine Wilkie is Wheatley Group’s Housing Advice and Letting leader, 
www.wheatley-group.com

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