A housing-led solution to homelessness

2 July 2020
Edinburgh - night

Ewan Aitken CEO writes on long-term solutions to homelessness following COVID19

While it should never have taken a public health crisis of this kind to force this concerted effort, we’ve seen over the past few months what we as a society can do when there is clear direction and sufficient resourcing from top to bottom; translated as “political will”, which speaks volumes about why we allowed ourselves to accept being told what we now know was possible wasn’t!

At the start of this crisis, public, private and third sector organisations (including ourselves at Cyrenians) worked in partnership to make sure that everyone had somewhere to self-isolate and be safe – effectively ending rough sleeping overnight, when original UK government targets were in the long grass of  2027/2028.

But as we all know, a shelter is not a home. A home is somewhere we can feel ‘rooted’, somewhere that gives us a sense of control and belonging – it’s essential for both physical and mental wellbeing and ultimately leads of improved outcomes for both individuals and the wider community. There are hundreds of people across Scotland staying in emergency hotel rooms at the moment – a formidable crisis-response in some of the most challenging circumstances, but not a sustainable nor a suitable solution long-term. Infact, there is a danger we inadvertently return to the “warehousing” of people experiencing homelessness by using hotels even if it is in individual rooms with en-suite facilities

Scotland has some of the most progressive legislation in the world, and our Ending Homelessness Together Action Plan [read here] is the right one, but COVID19 has forced faster progress on all fronts. That’s why, alongside partners in the Scotland Collective on Covid19: EveryoneHome [find out more] , we’re working on what those long-term solutions should look like, and how to get there. And so, this week, we launched the first of our ‘route maps’ [pdf] – a way forward for all local and national partners on some of the biggest questions facing us today, using evidence, expertise and real lived experience to guide us.

The Collective's first route map is on ending the need for night shelters and hotel room provision. Night shelters, and those who operate and staff them, do an incredible job in making sure that people can get direct access to the basic human needs that had not been met elsewhere. Partners including Bethany Christian Trust who have provided this service for years are the best placed to do so, and, alongside shelter, those who access it can find care, advocacy and community.

We all however acknowledge that this method of support itself is a far from perfect response. It is not system changing, it is system managing. Our ambition should not be limited to what might be preferable relative to rough sleeping. As a collective, we agree that, ultimately, a just outcome would be to completely design out the need for night shelter accommodation. For most of us, that means a normal home as part of a community, in mainstream accommodation.

Therefore, this route map takes a dual approach. Alongside scaling down the use of night shelter provision and hotel rooms, we must scale up Housing First and rapid rehousing - a compelling offer guided by the right principles for those who would otherwise need emergency shelter. We’re proud to be leading the Housing First Consortium in Edinburgh [link] and know that this person-centred response leads to better outcomes overall.

There will be some need for these provisions in the meantime, but more and more these places should modify their service to become a reception stop for Housing First and for other rapid rehousing options. We have set out a clear map and key points on what success would look like, and I would recommend that you read it.

This vision for the way forward is both ambitious and pragmatic – these are not mutually exclusive terms. We cannot return to the way things were, to a dysfunctional and costly homelessness system that has for years failed too many. We can and must reach further towards our potential as a country by changing the system itself, and how we connect to one another. Guided by the right principles, and by our shared values, I am determined to see us build back better after COVID19 at to get #EveryoneHome.