Winter actions on rough sleeping – Kevin Stewart, Housing Minister
I want Scotland to be a place where no-one needs to sleep rough and where everyone has place they can call home. This holds true no matter what time of year. But as we publish a summary report on the 2017-18 Winter Initiative and the improved outcomes this achieved for people at risk, my thoughts have already turned to this coming winter and how we can do even better.
The Winter Initiative was instigated immediately following the first set of recommendations from the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group (HARSAG). It included a range of practical measures to increase the capacity of accommodation and frontline services for people sleeping rough in that winter. These were delivered in partnership with HARSAG and backed with an initial investment of £328,000*, followed by a further £220,000 to ensure support continued for some of our most vulnerable people.
Our efforts were focused on Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen, where rough sleeping numbers were highest and where we could match actions to local needs and resources. As well as increasing temporary, emergency and night shelter accommodation to ensure nobody was turned away, more power was given to frontline workers to enable them to assist people off the streets.
This included the introduction of personal and flexible emergency funds so that frontline workers could get people quickly into accommodation, keeping them safe and warm, while they explored longer term solutions for their specific circumstances. Very small amounts of money often made the biggest difference to people’s lives – like providing the fees required to enable people to replace lost identification papers, enabling them to access bank accounts and benefit entitlements, or providing train and bus tickets so that people could reach relatives and a safe place to stay. For me, these practical responses to people’s immediate needs demonstrate why ending rough sleeping is something we can, and must, achieve.
I know that, day in, day out, many front line workers go that extra mile to ensure people get support in the right place, at the right time and I am grateful for their dedication. Empowering the frontline and increasing their flexibility over winter gave them more space to build trust initially and this has led to them being able to support people more effectively in the longer term too.
There is no doubt that the Winter Initiative, with the commitment to strengthened partnership working from all the organisations involved, and their staff and volunteers, changed many lives for the better. I think it’s safe to say that had we not put in place these interventions in good time before Christmas, we may well have seen lives being lost during a particularly harsh Scottish winter.
This work demonstrated what can be achieved with strong leadership, robust, responsive services and dedicated teams. I would like to thank, again, all those individuals and organisations who made this work, helping people during an extremely vulnerable point in their lives.
I will continue to champion those approaches that are most effective as we move towards this winter, implementing the HARSAG recommendations and achieving our aim of ending homelessness for good.
The Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group was established by the Scottish Government in September 2017. It announced its final recommendations on Ending Homelessness in Scotland in June 2018, which followed earlier recommendations for Transforming Temporary Accommodation in May 2018 and Ending Rough Sleeping in March 2018. Its recommendations on Ways to Minimise Rough Sleeping were published in November 2017.
*£66,000 provided by HARSAG members – Social Bite, Simon Community, Crisis and Govan Law Centre.