Richard Jennings: Support agencies must work together and put the homeless person first, not the process

Richard Jennings, managing director, Castle Rock Edinvar
Richard Jennings, managing director, Castle Rock Edinvar
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We need a system where information-sharing benefits the individual, says Richard Jennings

The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights clearly states that everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services. It would be hard to argue the opposite.

The Scottish Government has risen to the challenge and is backing both the Rapid Rehousing approach designed by local authorities as well as the more bespoke plans of Housing First. Across Scotland we have seen an increased drive and determination to eliminate homelessness, yet more needs to be done to ensure the homeless person remains at the very centre of the decision-making process about their future.

Walking through any city we are met with the sadly familiar sight of someone curled up in a shop doorway. For many people in this situation there has been a layering of different events, one compounded by another, which has created the situation. There is not just one issue to be addressed. An individual may have a form of addiction such as drugs, alcohol or gambling. They may have a mental or physical health condition. They may have a combination of these. They might have experienced any number of adverse childhood experiences and traumas. More often than not, people will have been let down by family or agencies. They may never have had a consistent person in their lives and so find it hard to trust anyone. These needs are clearly complex and take time and real skill to gradually start to gain trust and understanding if the correct targeted support is going to be effective and the impact sustained.

It is clear that the level of need in society is increasing and at the same time the capacity to provide the necessary support has reduced. The criteria to receive any form of intervention has increased with lengthy waiting times adding to the problem.

As a social housing provider Castle Rock Edinvar lets approximately 50 per cent of its tenancies to people classed as homeless. Included in this are a number of customers housed under the Housing First model. All of these lets are in general needs properties. We provide a home and whatever other types of supports needed are provided by the statutory agencies.

As a housing association we are not automatically party to information about a person even though data sharing agreements are in place. To help our customers sustain their tenancies we need to be able to work more closely with other agencies providing support. We need to know who to contact when neighbours report concerns, or when a tradesperson highlights a problem. Instead, we find we are asked to justify why we should be at a case conference and are often asked to step out of a multi-agency meeting. Is this really putting the person at the centre of the decision-making process? It certainly means we, as the housing provider, do not have fullest view of the individual who might otherwise be homeless. This is not what working together effectively should look like. Partnership working puts the person rather than the process at the centre.

We have recently worked very closely with officers from Police Scotland and staff from Aid and Abet to support a customer identified as being at serious risk of death. By working closely as a team we very quickly moved him from a horrendous cuckooed property – where persons of ill-intent move into a home to use it for illegal purposes, sometimes holding the tenant prisoner in their own home – to a place of safety. We helped build relationships, we checked on him and supported him. Through proper teamwork and putting the person first he now has the chance to rebuild his life.

Our customers are with us 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We are a consistent organisation in our customers’ lives. Our connection is ongoing rather than a defined timescale. A Scottish secure tenancy means a person potentially has a tenancy for life. So, it seems sensible that social housing providers, by putting the customer at the centre, could be best placed to become the coordinator of information, holding the 360-degree picture of the individual and helping to break the homeless cycle.

We need to create a system where information-sharing works for the benefit of the individual, and where a joined-up approach is exactly that so that no one slips through the gaps.

Richard Jennings, managing director, Castle Rock Edinvar