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“Many people who become homeless or end up sleeping rough have complex needs that require specialist support as well as a house. Traditionally the approach has been to provide support and get a person ‘tenancy ready’ before giving them a house.  But that can mean they spend long periods of time in temporary accommodation, making it harder for them to address the other issues they face.

We want to change that… It is our priority to get a person into settled accommodation first, so they can then access support from the security of their own home” – Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, October 2018.

This reflects the view of many people committed to ending street homelessness but it is even more significant when it comes from Scotland’s First Minister.  Not just a national commitment to investing in Housing First, but a clear understanding of why the approach is different, why it is successful and why we need to do much more of it.

It’s fair to say we were all excited when we heard about it. Can you imagine our response? And now, with the publication of the Scottish Government’s Ending Homelessness Together Action Plan in November 2018, we have taken another big step forward.

Housing First is not new here. Turning Point Scotland has been successfully delivering it in Glasgow since 2010, when it began a three-year pilot project in response to extremely high levels of repeat homelessness amongst homeless drug users.   But we have been on the journey of changing it from a discrete project to a national approach, with a set of principles that should underpin our homelessness system.

It was clear to us that if we wanted to achieve the full, transformative potential of Housing First then it needed to become simply what we do, sitting at the heart of our system and not around the edges.

We have moved beyond saying that in Scotland we believe Housing First creates the best base for recovery, to saying that it will be our default offer to people experiencing homelessness and a range of other multiple needs.  And even more significantly, a £10 million investment from Social Bite and the Scottish Government has been made in the Housing First Scotland Pathfinder Programme, working across five cities.  This investment will see the creation of up to 830 tenancies with Housing First support by March 2022, increasing our current capacity by almost 10 times.

The learning and knowledge gained from the Pathfinder programme will be crucial in supporting other local authorities across the country to develop and deliver Housing First in their area. And let’s hope that other countries will see just how effective this approach is and make Housing First the key response to ending street homelessness.

But for us in Scotland, with the political and financial commitment secured, we can now get on with the most important goal of ending street homelessness through the provision of safe, secure homes with flexible, open-ended support.

Claire Frew is the Policy and Impact Manager at Glasgow Homelessness Network, the lead organisation for the European End Street Homelessness Campaign in Glasgow.  Find out more about the work they are doing here.

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