A joined-up approach means fewer people are becoming homeless, writes Catherine Wilkie.
The latest statistics about homelessness in Scotland paint a mixed picture, with the number of people presenting themselves as homeless falling at the same time as an increase in children living in temporary accommodation.
The figures sparked calls for more to be done to tackle homelessness, but what, exactly, is the solution to this hugely complex issue?
People suffer housing problems for many reasons, including poor physical and mental health, social isolation, poverty, and their own home no longer being safe. Sometimes they experience several of these at once.
Ensuring everyone has a safe, secure home is not simply a housing issue, it’s also about public health, social care and welfare.
If we are serious about preventing homelessness, we must acknowledge that no single organisation can tackle this issue alone.
In Glasgow, recognising this led to the creation of housing options – a multi-agency partnership that sees people at risk of a housing crisis given tailored advice and support to find early solutions to their problem.
An independent evaluation of the scheme showed what we have achieved by working together.
Since housing options rolled out across Glasgow, there has been a 29 per cent drop in the number of people presenting themselves as homeless. That compares to a drop of 13 per cent across Scotland as a whole in the same period.
And 27 per cent of our customers – 4,320 people – said housing options had prevented a crisis for them.
That is extraordinary in a city of the size and complexity of Glasgow.
So what exactly are we doing here that is making such a difference?
Housing options have changed the way different agencies work, so partnership and collaboration are at the heart of everything we do. We share information and have a system of named contacts in each partner organisation, so people in need get a “joined-up” response.
It also means that vulnerable people don’t have to repeat their story to different agencies. It is not only efficient, it upholds people’s right to be treated with dignity and respect.
It also enables us to better understand exactly what is driving housing need in the city.
We found the most common reason people are facing housing crisis is low incomes, so money advice and financial inclusion services have been critical. In fact, 107 people were prevented from becoming homeless through financial inclusion and debt advice, funded by the Scottish Legal Aid Board.
One of them was David (not his real name).
He had been diagnosed with cancer, and was unable to work while undergoing treatment, but had not yet received Employment and Support Allowance. On top of severe concerns about his health, he could no longer pay his rent.
His landlord was threatening court action, and, almost out of nowhere, David faced losing his home.
The housing options approach saw us negotiate with his landlord to arrange a payment plan, while helping him claim income support. Instead of becoming another homeless statistic, David could stay in his home and focus on his health.
It is not just a question of what we do to support people – how we do it matters.
The model is designed to promote independence, offer people choice and increase the opportunities open to them.
But it has also been transformative for the organisations involved: staff reported that they were more confident in addressing people’s needs, and it has delivered savings to the city too.
In Glasgow, it has made a significant contribution to the number of void tenancies, and the number of abandoned tenancies has fallen by 20 per cent.
When we started, we called housing options the Coalition of the Willing – people coming together to try something different to tackle and prevent homelessness, and give people the support they need to make a go of their home.
Since then, we have grown to include more than 50 partners, all working as one to tackle homelessness.
We have a long way to go, but the findings of the evaluation tell us that treating the whole person at the same time as we address their housing issue has set us on the right path.
Catherine Wilkie is Housing Advice and Letting Leader at Wheatley Group, Scotland’s largest housing, care and property management organisation.