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How the Public Sector can help prevent homelessness

BLOGS | 8th March 2024

Community Justice Scotland’s Head of Policy and Improvement Laura Hoskins talks about work being done to prevent homelessness.

Everyone should have a safe and decent place to live so they can get on with their lives.

Now plans are underway to ensure public services can play a key role in preventing homelessness.

People become homeless for many different reasons including social causes such as lack of affordable housing, poverty and unemployment as well as life events. But in some cases they become homeless when leaving prison or the care system and we recognise more needs to be done to prevent this happening.

The Scottish Government is proposing a homelessness prevention duty on public bodies in the forthcoming Housing Bill to support this.

The way we can prevent homelessness is multi-faceted. Critically, appropriate housing is in short supply and suitable stock must continue to be built, acquired and updated.

Also, public bodies should be fully supported and resourced so staff can be trained before these new duties come into force.

Those of us working in our public services need to learn the skills to recognise when people who are presenting with other issues may also be at risk of homelessness and to know how to help to deal with this.

There are recognised  trigger points where people are at risk such as when someone leaves prison or the care system or hospital, particularly if lengthy stays have resulted in a breakdown of family relationships, a loss of a job or tenancy or a cessation of benefits. The impacts of homelessness are far-reaching. For instance people connected to the justice system will struggle to engage with support to address problems with substance use or other behaviours if they feel unsafe or uncertain about where they will be sleeping that night.

During 2023, Community Justice Scotland (CJS), worked within a multi-agency Task and Finish Group of partners, co-chaired and coordinated by the charities Crisis and Cyrenians. The aim was to identify what we can collectively do to prevent homelessness and to ensure that this is seen as everyone’s business. 

This work was timely given the Government commitment to develop a shared national approach to homelessness prevention with the anticipated introduction of new duties on Scottish public bodies in the proposed Housing Bill. The Task and Finish Group’s report was presented to Government in August 2023 and the Government issued a response in December 2023.

The report identified priority areas to focus on if the new prevention duties are to have the greatest impact. As Crisis commented following its publication: “The measures proposed by the Scottish Government to prevent homelessness could be transformative. But to work properly, they need to be backed up with adequate resourcing and the support local authorities and public services so desperately need.”

At CJS we will continue to work with partners as these proposed new duties emerge, specifically to achieve better outcomes for people in the justice system.

As part of this, during 2024 we will also be involved in a strategic review of the standards supporting the delivery of Sustainable Housing on Release for Everyone (SHORE Standards) alongside Scottish Prison Service (SPS), COSLA (which represents local councils across Scotland), social housing providers and Scottish Government’s Homelessness Prevention Team. First published in 2017, the SHORE Standards aim to support all people leaving custody to have access to suitable housing appropriate to their needs and to avoid them falling into homelessness. These standards will be updated to take account of the impact of the Bail and Release from Custody (Scotland) Act 2023 and the implications of the proposed new homelessness prevention duties. The aim will be to ensure that people leaving prison have access to appropriate housing.

At CJS we are fully aligned to the adage that prevention is better than cure. Working together with our partners we will support measures to prevent the trauma and indignity of homelessness and to help change people’s lives for the better.