Campaigners urge Scottish Government to resource "housing first" model to end homelessness

Scottish Parliament committee recommends nationwide roll-out of Finnish “Housing First” scheme

SHELTER SCOTLAND and Common Weal have welcomed a new report by the Scottish Parliament’s local government and communities committee, which calls for a national roll-out of a “Housing First” approach to homelessness based on the Finnish model.

Campaigners have stressed that adequate funding and clarity must be provided if the scheme is to be rolled out effectively.

In a report published on Monday following a year-long investigation into the causes of and potential solutions to homelessness, the cross-party committee recommends that a “Housing First” model which has been piloted in some areas of Scotland be rolled out across the country.

READ MORE: ‘We won’t back down!’: Mothers resisting homelessness in the capital expose the indignity of our housing system

The model is based on an approach used in Finland, which is the only country in Europe where homelessness is in decline, and is centred around the individual’s unconditional right to a permanent home. Under this model, people presenting as homeless who have multiple complex needed are provided with a permanent home, removing the need to go through several levels of temporary accommodation.

Common Weal, which is undertaking its own year-long project investigating the best possible housing policy for Scotland, has backed the  recommendation, while arguing that resourcing will be integral to its success.

Ben Wray, head of policy at Common Weal, told CommonSpace: "Housing First based on the Finnish model is undoubtedly the way to go if we are serious about eradicating homelessness, so the committee's finding is good news and the Scottish Government should act on it.

“But it's important to understand that the policy of providing homeless people with an unconditional home needs to be backed up with the resources to deliver it in practise.

“Those resources include the finance for sufficient public house-building, but also the funding for local council services to ensure that once homeless people are in the home they are given the support they need to live a secure and safe life."

National homelessness charity Shelter Scotland has also emphasised the need for a clear plan on how the scheme would be funded and implemented in practice, while broadly supporting the committee’s recommendations.

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Director of Shelter Scotland Graeme Brown said: "We need to know more about how the well-intended ambition of rolling out a Scotland-wide version of the Housing First model would be funded and how this would interact with our current progressive homelessness laws.

“The risk is that without clarity on this we may create further legal confusion or complexity and lead to unintended consequences for those that turn to councils that are already struggling to deliver on their current duties."

That being said, Brown noted: "It is right that this report makes a broad range of recommendations on interconnected issues and we now need to urgently see some of these turn into systems and practice change on the ground to deliver a better service for those facing homelessness.

“Shelter Scotland has for years been campaigning for minimum standards in temporary accommodation and for a reduction in the length of time households are having to spend there, which currently averages 24 weeks, and we support the recommendations in this report in these areas.”

He added: “This is a very welcome report that clearly shows there is a long way to go to fix the human tragedy of homelessness in Scotland. It is simply wrong that in the last six months in Scotland on average a household lost their home every 18 minutes.”

Shelter Scotland also welcomed the report’s acknowledgment of the need to address “the unacceptable problem of gatekeeping homeless people from the local authority services and support they have a right to”.

The report draws on evidence from Finland and the pilots implemented by Turning Point Scotland, and notes that an expansion on the model is supported by the organisation, along with the Glasgow Homelessness Network and Crisis.

READ MORE: Ben Wray: The 10 actions we can take to fix housing in Scotland

Convener of the local government and communities committee, Bob Doris MSP said: “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.

“That’s why our committee has recommended that the Scottish Government learns from Finland and rolls out a Scottish version of Housing First, as a part of a potential solution to addressing homelessness.

“Housing is a basic human right and everyone should have a roof over their heads. We hope these recommendations will go some way towards ensuring that becomes the reality for more people and families in the future.”

Housing minister Kevin Stewart welcomed the report, stating that it would “help inform the steps we are already taking to address this important issue”.

He added: “Scotland has some of the strongest housing rights for homeless people but as this report highlights, for some people – who may have more complex needs or be rough sleeping – simply providing accommodation is not always enough.”

Picture courtesy of Marc Brüneke

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