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Scots need Finnish scheme to tackle homelessness, MSPs report

12 February 2018

The “Housing First” approach to homelessness that has worked in Finland should be adapted for Scotland, particularly for people with complex needs, a Holyrood committee claims in a newly published report.

MSPs on the Local Government & Communities Committee made the call following a year-long inquiry into the causes of and long-term solutions to homelessness in Scotland.

They report that while Scotland has some of the strongest legislation in the world in relation to the rights of homeless people, or those threatened with homelessness, people in that situation may not be always be aware of their statutory rights, and in some cases local authorities were not fulfilling their statutory obligations.

Sometimes those with the most multiple and complex needs end up in the poorest quality temporary accommodation and this is a factor which leads to their cycles of homelessness.

Housing First aims to provide a home quickly to those in need, alongside the right level of support, rather than going through several levels of temporary accommodation. The basic premise is that those who present as homeless and have multiple and complex needs are provided with a house and a permanent tenancy unconditionally.

The model is being operated or piloted in a small number of areas in Scotland and there is growing interest in developing it more widely, including from Turning Point, the Glasgow Homelessness Network and Crisis.

In looking the adoption of Housing First, the MSPs call on the Scottish Government to consider:

  • how elements of best practice from previous pilots could inform policy development for an approach that fits Scotland’s context;
  • how budgets from different agencies (such as health, local government and justice) can be aligned to fund preventative measures, the wrap around support and extra homes that may be required; and
  • how it will provide the strong leadership and guidance required to drive key partners to work together and to support the practical changes required.

The most recent Scottish Government figures show that homelessness remains a problem in Scotland, with more than 34,800 homeless applications made to local authorities in the year to September 2017, slightly up on the previous year. There were 6,581 children in temporary accommodation, and more than a quarter of these were in hostels or bed and breakfast accommodation.

Finland is the only country in Europe where homelessness has declined, the MSPs state.

They also highlight the need for better support for the vulnerable, in particular from care-experienced young people, some of whim told the committee they felt “trapped” in unsuitable and sometimes dangerous accommodation.

And they are further concerned that judicial review is the only mechanism for appeal in relation to the provision of temporary accommodation, given that it only assesses whether the correct procedure has been followed, and recommend that the Scottish Government investigate whether a more accessible and independent appeals process should be provided.

Committee convener Bob Doris MSP commented:

“We know there is no quick-fix solution to eradicating homelessness and it still remains a complex issue in Scotland and many other countries today.

“After hearing directly from people who are homeless and those who have experienced sleeping on the streets or sofa-surfing, as well as service providers on the front line, it was clear that further action is needed.”

Click here to access the committee's report.

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