Housing First can help us tackle homelessness

The scale of homelessness in the UK is shocking, but we are determined to act – and the Housing First scheme gives us means to do so, writes Wheatley Group Chief Executive Martin Armstrong.

Martin Armstrong

Homelessness remains a blight on civilised society the world over.

In Scotland, as the latest figures from the Scottish Government prove, it continues to be an urgent, pressing problem on a huge scale. It is something we should all feel ashamed about.

Of the nearly 36,500 applications from homeless people, almost 3,000 involved people sleeping on the streets. There are around 320,000 homeless people across the UK, according to research released by Shelter last year.

If you’re not shocked by these figures, you should be. I am. I am also upset, frustrated and – as the leader of a major social landlord – determined to do something about it.

Housing First is seeking to tackle this troubling, shocking issue. The model is based on the principle of not only helping people into permanent accommodation as quickly as possible, but providing them with the support they need to sustain their tenancy.

Pilots have been running across the UK, following the widespread success of Housing First in mainland Europe, where 80% of rough sleepers have been found homes.

The Scottish Government is supporting a large-scale pilot in Scotland. Part of Wheatley’s involvement is an ambitious partnership with social enterprise Social Bite.

This comprises a pledge to make available up to 200 homes to homeless people, and new tenants receive a starter pack that can include food, recycled furniture and fire-retardant bedding to help get them back on their feet.

This includes advice and assistance on everything from saving money on energy bills and help to set up gas, electricity and bank accounts, to arranging a home fire safety visit.

Housing First is now established in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Stirling, Aberdeen and Dundee, and Wheatley operates in the first three city areas. Our care organisations, Loretto Care and Barony, provide even more intensive support to those with even more complex needs.

It is not our first such partnership. Glasgow Housing Association, Scotland’s largest social landlord, tackled the problem jointly with homelessness charity Turning Point Scotland eight years ago. More than 90% of those supported sustained their tenancies for three years or more, using a safe, secure home as a springboard to transform their lives.

Yet despite our efforts, and those of all of the other agencies and authorities involved, homelessness is still a huge problem. However, Housing First is beginning to make a difference.

Our partnership with Social Bite has doubled our Housing First tenancies in Glasgow. Today 33 people are living in a home of their own. They include Bill, who had lived on the street for 10 years, suffering from mental health issues, alcohol addiction and limited mobility.

Bill’s top priority was to be housed near his sister, with whom he had recently reconnected. He was delighted to move into a home with a back garden facing his sister’s house, and was given a full starter pack and the practical and personal support he needed to make a go of it.

He has stopped drinking and is engaging well with his support workers.

In the past year, there has been just one tenancy failure, which is remarkable given how vulnerable these new tenants are – many with no identification, never mind bank accounts.

Social Bite’s Housing First Scotland Fund, administered by the Corra Foundation, is giving homeless people the opportunity to turn their lives around – something that will be corroborated, hopefully, by evaluation being carried out by Herriot Watt University.

It will prove, we all very much hope, that the £6.5m allocated by the Scottish Government over the next three years to support 830 people through this groundbreaking partnership of local authorities, third sector partners and housing providers is turning the tide in the fight to end homelessness.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019