Why we need to work together and use evidence based methods to address homelessness

Blog from Rock Trust CEO, Kate Polson:

“The Rock Trust has been working with young homeless people across Edinburgh, the Lothians and beyond for 25 years and during this time, whilst some services remain constant over many years, other services develop and adapt in response to evidence of what works or piloting new ways of working.

Recently we have been asked questions about the new and much publicised homeless village plans and whether we believe that this offers a solution to the homelessness problem.

Our opinion is mixed. We do not want to sit on the fence, but we understand the reality of the homelessness problem and we know that one village will not solve it – it requires everyone to work together, using evidence based methods to address the issues involved.

The biggest issue that we have in Edinburgh is a shortage of affordable, permanent, suitably sized accommodation.

We have around 400 people per night in B&Bs or temporary accommodation. These people are stuck there, sometimes for 18 months, with no move on option. This has resulted in a bed blocking situation – where people in crisis cannot be housed and either sleep rough or enter shelters because there are people in temporary accommodation who have nowhere to go. Whilst it will always be tempting to deliver more shelters or temporary beds, what we really need is for more mainstream community-based housing to be developed or made accessible to those trying to move on from homelessness.

In Scotland, we are listening to the evidence and experience of others and learning from it. Housing First is a model originating in America which moves people out of homelessness into their own home, integrated into the community, and supports them there – rather than asking them to make multiple moves through the housing system. The Housing First model is currently being delivered by Turning Point in Glasgow. Nightstop, the De Paul model of volunteer hosts offering their spare room to a young person, is being delivered successfully across England and recently in Scotland by Simon Community Scotland in Glasgow and Rock Trust in Edinburgh. These models have been researched and evaluated and are now being shared with the world and adapted to suit other countries. These are just a couple of examples of sharing and replicating good practice in the housing and homelessness sector world wide, however people outwith the homeless sector may never have heard about them.

The Homeless village could provide an alternative to B&Bs for at least 20 of the people currently needing accommodation, in the same way that shelters provide an alternative to rough sleeping. Shelters are certainly not ideal, but in the absence of other options, they are necessary. Likewise, the village may not be the most cost effective model and may not follow the recommendations of academics and practitioners but at least people will be able to have visitors, cooking facilities and access to support, which they wouldn’t have in a B&B.

The best thing about the village, in our opinion, is that it has captured the interests of the public, politicians and celebrities alike. It has brought much needed attention to the issue of homelessness and has managed to generate funds in a way which homeless services backed by years of research never have. We just need to ensure that we are gathering support for all of the other vulnerable and homeless people who will remain in temporary accommodation and that we have good quality affordable accommodation in place for those in B&Bs or the village, for when they are ready to move on”.