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Collaboration needed to tackle homelessness, conference hears

SFHA's Homeless to Housed conference attracted nearly 100 housing professionals to hear from experts about the factors involved in homelessness, and how it can be tackled. 

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SFHA’s inaugural homelessness conference, Homeless to Housed, was opened by Housing minister Kevin Stewart MSP who passionately spoke about the need for collaboration from all sectors of Scotland if homelessness was to be eradicated.

“Homelessness is not just a problem for the housing sector,” Stewart told delegates. “So many people that we've spoken to have had housing opportunities but have been let down by another part of the system.

“Too often in the past, it [homelessness] has been seen as a 'housing problem'. We have to start to understand that it is actually a responsibility for all public bodies.”

The conference, a first for SFHA, was held at Grassmarket Community Project in Edinburgh on Thursday (13 Dec). Speakers included Dr Neil Hamlet from NHS Fife, Dave Russell from the Centre for Homelessness Impact, Claire Frew, Glasgow Homeless Network, Lucie Dunn from Crisis, Ruth Robin from Health Improvement Scotland iHub, Robin Wallace from Simon Community and Fiona King from Shelter.

Stewart was particularly enthusiastic about getting input from housing professionals for his planning around Rapid Rehousing. “Every area is going to have different issues,” he said. “Sometimes it is easier to deal with problems in urban areas and not so easy in rural areas. We have flexibility. I want to know the challenges that housing associations and RSLs face in implementing rapid rehousing.”

He also reinforced that the government was still very committed to its £23m pledge to help date homelessness. “Every area is going to have different needs,” he said. “There's no single path to, or out of, homelessness. Housing associations and RSLs have a big part to play in this but it needs to be people-centric and work with the other services.

“Tenancy sustainment is a priority as it costs far more to evict someone and then rehome them.”

Dr Hamlet’s presentation gave some startling insights to how the health sector has a part to play in tackling homelessness, citing mental health issues, A&E admissions and mortality rates.

Delegates also took part in world café discussions relating to domestic abuse, prison leavers and new Scots – this wider network is vital in ensuring housing association staff are well-informed to have conversations about housing support with partners and colleagues

Pauline Lunn from Y People spoke about changing attitudes towards the homeless and about developing a psychologically informed experience (PIE). She gave an inspiring presentation encouraging delegates to continue to support those with challenging needs and to not give up hope.

Claire Mailer of Perth and Kinross Council spoke about the councils Home First strategy which is supporting those who are homeless to move directly into settled accommodation aiming to reduce the stigma and the impacts of homelessness.

The conference also heard from people with lived experience of homelessness and the effect it had on their lives.