Putting tackling homelessness at the heart of our COVID-19 recovery
We want to ensure that everyone has a warm, safe home that meets their needs. Our focus has not changed during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic but our ambition has increased.
When I last co-chaired the Scottish Government’s Homelessness Prevention and Strategy Group (HPSG) in early March, I could not have envisaged all that would be achieved over the three months that followed.
The Scottish Government and our partners in the public and third sector came together to take swift action to ensure people experiencing rough sleeping or those in unsuitable accommodation were able to be moved to safe places during this public health pandemic.
Adopting an urgent, inclusive and human rights-based approach to tackling homelessness, and building on the close working relationships that were already in place, meant we were able to move hundreds of people into a place of safety who were living on the streets, in night shelters and hostels. The willingness of all parties to work collaboratively has strengthened our resolve and opened new paths to ending homelessness in Scotland.
The current emergency accommodation arrangements are a temporary measure, not a sustainable or long term solution. The vital next stage of this work is to ensure everyone is supported out of these arrangements and into settled homes. We cannot shy away from the fact that this will be a major challenge and take sustained effort to bring about. But it’s also a major opportunity to lock in a change we all want to see.
We do not want to see anyone return to unsuitable temporary accommodation or rough sleeping. Equally, we do not want to see the medical or social care they have accessed during this period withdrawn as we move out of this pandemic.
The latest meeting of the HPSG was dominated by our response to the coronavirus pandemic. I was able to thank the many people and organisations who have worked incredibly hard over the past few months to support people experiencing homelessness. I was also delighted that everyone remains committed to reaching the aims set out in the Ending Homelessness Together Action Plan which is the basis of our work to transform the homelessness system in Scotland.
The Action Plan was firmly rooted in the recommendations of the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group (HARSAG). That is why I have asked HARSAG to reconvene for a short time under its previous chair Jon Sparkes, CEO of Crisis. I have asked the group to work at pace to consider where things need to go next if we are to end homelessness.
As in the previous work, HARSAG will frame their work around a number of key questions and this will be in light of the new situation we are in due to Covid-19 to inform a homelessness recovery plan. In line with the Ending Homelessness Together principles, our recovery plan will also be informed by people who have experience of homelessness and by the insights and expertise of those who work in homelessness services.
As Scotland emerges from this public health crisis, we want to avoid further entrenching inequality and disadvantage, whilst further galvanising support for ending homelessness. We want to build a society where everyone, including women and children who have been through the crime of domestic abuse, feels safe in their homes and where there is no longer a need for night shelters. That will be at the heart of our recovery planning. Drawing, as they did in their previous work, on the voice of lived experience and wider expertise, the work of HARSAG will inform this.
Prevention will also be key in our recovery plan as we also recognise that there may be an increase in numbers of those at risk of homelessness as we ease out of lockdown: for example, due to family breakdown, or changes in income or loss of employment that have occurred due to the pandemic. These are the non-health harms we are very aware that coronavirus has created.
The Scottish Government wants to secure long term, systemic change. We will do this by building on the powerful response from all parties, protect the progress we have made and work with local authorities, housing providers, the third sector and other important partners in the health, social care and justice systems.
Our ambition is to capitalise on the unique opportunity we have and build forward to secure our goal of ending homelessness in Scotland.