Lothians candidate Jill Reilly talks about her experience of volunteering to help homeless people during lockdown

Yesterday, Scottish Conference discussed a motion which called for the party to adopt the Housing First model to help the most vulnerable homeless people.

This means that people with addictions, mental ill health or  prison leavers, for example, are given somewhere to live. Housing First projects set up in Scotland have been successful – with no tenancies failing and incredibly positive feedback from those who have been helped.

It is an important tool in making sure that the most vulnerable homeless people are properly looked after. If they have somewhere to live, then everything else that is going on in their lives is easier to fix, whether that is trauma, addiction or mental ill health. 

And look what the tenants have to say:

Housing First is the best thing ever. To have the chance to start a new life. 

The Housing First support has been amazing and coming into prison into my own tenancy has made a huge difference as I am away from negative influences. With Housing First Support I feel I can remain in my tenancy and stay out of prison

You have to wonder how on earth has it taken so long to the point where we actually make sure someone has somewhere to live when they leave prison.

While I think we must build on the success of Housing First, we have to make sure that we tackle all forms of homelessness. While Shelter support the Housing First model they are concerned that we don’t make people experiencing different forms of homelessness. 

There was a lot of support for the Housing First model at the Conference, but there was concern that the motion called for a new government agency to administer the model. The movers of the motion wanted that because the councils in the biggest cities have more homeless people, who have come from all parts of the country to deal with. It is counter-intuitive, though, for party that doesn’t like centralisation and when we can see how SNP centralisation has ruined most of our public services.

So the motion was referred back for further discussion, with a stronger motion coming back to Spring conference.

Lothians candidate Jill Reilly talked about what she had learned from her experience volunteering to help homeless people during the pandemic. Here is her speech:

When we were all staying at home during lockdown, no one was staying in hotels.

So how wonderful to have this unique situation where we can use these empty beds to house roughsleepers.

I did 2 shifts a week supporting the residents housed in one of these hotels.

Edinburgh council paid the hotel owner for use of the whole hotel

They also provided funding to the streetworks charity to run the accommodation.

So what worked well?

It was a nice environment

It was a 4 star hotel with attractive rooms and lots of light,

Each resident had their own ensuite lockable room

It felt safe

It felt warm and friendly

It felt secure

Many residents took the big step to come off drugs, alcohol and really use the opportunity to turn their life around

To help we offered 24/7 in person support from charity staff who are trained in how to deal with the complex needs of the residents

They also worked with them to establish what they needed, to move onto permanent accommodation

–          Setting up bank accounts

–          Arranging access to housing benefit

–          Securing tenancies with regular housing outreach services

This previously had not been possible with the inconsistency of seeing the rough sleepers ad hoc when they came into the charities hub.  It is much harder when they were not under the same roof every day to get all the admin set up.

This is where I see how housing first would really help

– for those who are chronically homeless, with chaotic lives and complex needs

they often really don’t have the capacity to wait for all the ticks to be in the right boxes to get housing with the correct support.

To do housing first well, it needs the right level of funding otherwise it will fail.  I know during covid those who took the longest to rehouse were those without recourse to public funds.  This makes it an even more costly initiative if the answer is to house first and ask questions later.

I disagree with lines 45-46 as I don’t think centralizing in Holyrood or St Andrews House is the answer to the funding concerns.  This needs to be longer term funding for locally targeted solutions based on the needs and housing available.  I’ve seen how successful it can be when councils work with charities with the skills, experience and ethos that can make these initiatives a success.

making it a central government problem will not solve it.

Although housing first is not right for all situations, it removes the barriers and provides a solution to some forms of homelessness.

I think we should support this motion, with the exception of lines 45 and 46.  Let’s make homelessness a thing of the past.


* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.

One Comment

  • Gerald Stewart 1st Nov '20 - 12:01pm

    Interesting, similar schemes have been set up across the U.K. but not with those quite remarkable results.
    I’d like to know a little more about the numbers and how people were chosen or screened as being suitable to be housed by the project.
    I’m particularly interested in the statement that, no tenancies failed, having worked within housing, substance misuse, mental health and the criminal justice system for over 20 years my experience is that at least some tenancies would fail with this cohort of people even with the most intensive support.
    If the project has truly housed previously homeless people with all the chaos and potentially reckless and self destructive behaviour that those living on the street often exhibit as coping strategies and there have been zero failures in tenancy, then the project and those involved are to be congratulated and the project replicated across the U.K.
    as a matter of urgency, however I may be a cynic but something doesn’t smell quite right.
    For example, the organisation for which I work can honestly claim that no service user is ever excluded from the treatment, because the policy is that regardless of severity of behaviour including physical violence, no service user will ever be excluded. Similar services often have a different policy and will exclude people for a short period of time for threatening and dangerous behavior.
    Putting the statement of our service in some context looses some of the ‘ wow’ factor.
    In any case the staff and people living in the project are to be congratulated for their work.

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