Hundreds of rough sleepers in Scotland to be offered homes
At least 600 of Scotland’s most vulnerable rough sleepers are to be provided with homes and the continuing support they need to sustain their tenancies, in the largest commitment of its kind in the UK.
Today, he has a welcome mat and polished brass number plate outside the front door of his one bed flat.
In a cruel twist of irony, he was a chef for a homeless charity before losing his wife, house, kids and job and finding himself homeless.
Now he is an example of how Scotland is leading the way in the UK’s crusade to take all rough sleepers off the streets and into safe and settled homes.
Mick, 34 says: “When I helped feed homeless people, they’d often thank me and say ‘Mick, you’re one of us’. Within one week last May, I became one of them.
“I spent nights under bridges not just because of the shelter but because I could hide in the dark and cry. I felt ashamed, drained, heartbroken, horrible and disgusting. I’d worked all my life but in a space of a week, after my marriage broke down, I lost everything.
“Now I have my own flat I’m grateful for small things, like being able to make myself a cup of tea in peace. And for the much bigger things, like having my son to visit.”
Scotland is following a groundbreaking Housing First scheme used in Finland, where street homelessness is almost non-existent.
It is successful, simple, cheaper and fundamentally different from the way homelessness is generally tackled in England and Wales.
Rough sleepers are given homes first, then supported to tackle any issues such as addiction, mental or long-term ill health.
It flips upside down the approach taken in the rest of the UK, where people who are homeless are first helped to prove they’re “tenancy ready” before being given homes.
It can mean years of rehab, failing repeatedly, feeling unworthy and living in rowdy hostels.
“This approach is exciting and it’s going to work,” says Doug Gibson, project manager of Glasgow Homelessness Network which is the charity managing the flagship programme.
“It focuses on rapidly getting someone in to a safe, secure, long-term tenancy then wrapping them with caring, flexible, indefinite support.
“Living in a shelter isn’t the best place to address issues and figures prove it doesn’t work. A home is the best place to recover and get back on your feet.
“It’s a common sense, effective solution and it’s been proven time and again.”
The Scottish government is investing £6.5 million for the next three years into Housing First, and the Social Bite charity is contributing £3 million.
The aim of the scheme is to permanently end the most visible form of homelessness in three to five years and the whole thing is backed with £23.5 million of Scottish government money.
It sounds expensive. But compared to the multitude of public services and temporary accommodation needed to help rough sleepers it constitutes long-term public savings of £3,000 to £18,000 per person per year according to evidence from abroad.
Mick was approached by staff about Housing First while living in a Salvation Army hostel alongside 48 other men.
“They saved my life,” he says. “When I first presented myself as homeless to the council office, they told me to go to a hotel for two nights.
“But when I turned up, I wasn’t on the register so they wouldn’t let me in. And because it was the weekend, there was no one to call to sort things so I had to sleep rough.
“Although I didn’t sleep. People on the homeless scene know the best places to go, but I’ve worked all my life so never expected to find myself on the streets and hadn’t a clue. I kept going in to McDonald’s for warmth and coffee and took all-day bus rides.
“I was glad to have a bed in the Salvation Army accommodation, but locked myself in my room to keep myself to myself. People chapped my door every half hour so it was impossible to have peace.
“Visitors weren’t allowed so I couldn’t see my son. That was the worst thing.”
Housing First treats homelessness as a social justice issue and ensures each person is given choices of where to live and the wrap-around support they need, including advice on benefit entitlement, key workers to accompany them to hospital appointments or simply someone to talk to.
Key workers look after between six or seven clients and many who left the caring profession have returned on hearing the success of the approach.
Under the scheme, Mick was given the choice of decor and furnishings for his flat.
Such small but vital points have given him immense pride in his flat, which he keeps pristinely and feels is his home forever.
He says: “When I was homeless I felt hopeless and worthless. Now my self-esteem and confidence have built back up. I’m desperate to get back to work and am being supported through treatment for a long-term stomach condition, which means I keep vomiting and can’t eat properly.
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