I’m a Senior Homeless Housing Officer for one of the largest Council’s in Scotland. What I would say is, I don’t deal with ‘The Homeless’ or ‘Service Users’, I meet with folk with a name who find themselves either facing or in a housing crisis. Like most crisis situations, homelessness does not discriminate, can and does happen to anyone.
Since the introduction of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2010, we are regulated. The Scottish Housing Regulator has this statutory duty:-
‘Safeguard and promote the interests of current and future tenants of social landlords, people who are or may become homeless, and people who use housing services provided by registered social landlords (RSLs) and local authorities’
We report to the regulator and are audited and assessed.
My day is difficult to plan and can be unpredictable. On any given day we can have a family fleeing domestic abuse or harassment with only the clothes they are standing in to a young person who has been asked to leave the family home to a home being repossessed due to a Husband/Wife hiding a gambling/shopping addiction and running up debts to someone long term sofa-surfing or sleeping rough. We also have pre-planned appointments as we will see anyone faced with homelessness within the next 2 months.
As the Homeless Service is regulated, the team I work in are well versed on the current legislation, work to the Homelessness Code of Guidance and receive on-going training – contrary to what some might think of the ‘Cooncil no having a clue’. I have studied for and passed Shelter’s Home point qualification and currently studying towards a Housing Diploma in the evening.
Completing a homeless application – do I have to know your housing history, YES. Do I need to know why you have become or about to become homeless, YES. All Councils in Scotland will take you through the very same procedure and will explain you need to meet the following:
Are you homeless or about to made homeless in the next 2 months ?
Are you intentionally homeless ?
Do you have a local connection to the Local Authority ?
The Council has 28 days to make a decision. The onus isn’t really on the person to prove they are homeless and the Council will always give benefit of doubt however, we will challenge anyone presenting with a current tenancy or own property and seek an explanation. Situations such as Domestic Violence are not really investigated and you do not need a Local Connection.
Tenancy sustainment and prevention is huge and something the Scottish Government is committed to, the Housing Options and Homeless Prevention Service we offer is also assessed. Should anyone find themselves faced with a threat of homeless but it might not be in the next 2 months, we will meet with you and review your housing situation through the Prevention and Housing Options route. We always aim to keep a Family in their home unless its unsafe and will not deny anyone a Homeless Interview should they feel Housing Options is not the best route. What I would stress here is overcrowding is not a reason for homelessness and by overcrowding I mean 2 kids sharing a bedroom is not a disgrace, different matter if it’s 5 in a bedsit.
We can negotiate on your behalf with Private Landlords and Mortgage Lenders and will work with the Courts regarding mortgage and rent arrears – sometimes postponing eviction action until you receive an offer of permanent re housing and save the use of Temporary Accommodation. We know what a valid Notice to Quit looks like and we will challenge any Landlord when the notice is invalid (which a LOT are !) and also if your property is in a state of disrepair.
The Council are the face of Government policies and as such we face the frustrations of the Public but for me the most difficult part is dealing with Rooflessness, challenging behaviour and managing expectations. For Rooflessness and challenging behaviour, 1 in 3 folk sleeping rough in Glasgow have been barred from temporary accommodation (can be found on Shelter’s website) – this might not be something you want to hear or agree with but doesn’t change that this is a reality and happens at least once a week, if not a day. I hate this part of my job but we will always work with the person towards permanent re housing and tenancy sustainment. The reasons they have been evicted or barred are too many to mention but some are as simple as non payment of rent to the more complex of intimidating behaviour (a minority). I would stress that intimidating behaviour isn’t exclusive to homelessness by a long shot, not even close. We all face setbacks and make mistakes, working with challenging behaviour is certainly not easy but not impossible. The most difficult part can be getting the person to engage with Services put in place and Support won’t always work the first time or 2nd, 3rd, or 4th.. Anyone working in any Support Services will confirm this.
Rooflessness and long term rough sleeping can and is difficult, there can often be mental health or addiction and there is no magic solution with the road to recovery long. To judge someone this way without knowing the story or the person is wrong on so many levels. Ongoing support needs to be offered and easily accessible. We don’t live in an ideal world where everything is all fluffy, some are less fortunate than ourselves and aren’t blessed with a strong circle of family and friends. For example, some people there only friends are other addicts – how do you break this cycle ? Would you like to cut ties with the only friends you have, the only friends you feel accept you ?
This brings me onto Support Services – absolutely no doubt there is a shortage of affordable and social housing but this papers over some of the cracks for me. If it was really this simple, why do I regularly meet folk who are on their 4th/5th/6th – 12th homeless presentation and have been re housed on more than one occasion ? If anyone has the answer here, I would be grateful as we are always looking to improve this and report to the Regulator on repeat presentations. We also look at Permanent Tenancies that fail within 12 months and need foresight, not hindsight.
Our Housing Support Service is offered and assessed at the initial homeless interview – this can be budgeting, accessing welfare benefits, registering with a GP, accessing other services (e.g. Woman’s Aid, Addiction etc), befriending and social inclusion or just simply moral support. We also have Family Support Services and Intensive Support Services- sometimes this is outsourced and we joint work with organisations such as Shelter Support Services. We will look at previous tenancies and the reasons they failed.
Foodbanks are growing however we have for a long time provided emergency food parcels via a Charity organisation – the fact foodbanks are growing is another story and an affront to the powers that be of Great Britain. As we are a Support Service, we can access the food parcels and token system for foodbanks however, the other side. We have the not so nice job of asking the questions of why they are using foodbanks – have their benefits been sanctioned, if yes – why ? What support and assistance can we offer to resolve this ? Is there budgeting issues, do they have gas and electricity to cook the food and heat the property ? This is just a very small sample and again doesn’t matter if you agree or disagree with the questions being asked, benefit sanctions leaves the family with no income or housing benefit and practical help is needed. Outrage at benefit sanctions alone doesn’t put food on the table or heat a house.
We also have to plan in Child Protection or Adult Support and Protection multi-agency meetings that we attend – this is far from easy or ‘interesting’ and is most likely about someone we’ve met and got to know. For an Adult who is subject to Adult Support and Protection we are ensuring a care support plan and package is in place to ensure the Adult can live in their home and feel safe.
Temporary Accommodation – we have a statutory duty to provide this should you find yourself in a roofless situation. We have our own Temporary furnished flats, properties we lease from Private Landlords, emergency hostel type accommodation and Supported Accommodation. B&B accommodation is unsuitable but can be used as a last, short term resort. The Council do not manage all their accommodation but joint work with organisations such as Salvation Army, Blue Triangle, Y People and more. Part of my job is to attend budget meetings and problem solving – again a reality, no matter what your opinion is of budgets, these services do not run on fresh air. Another brutal reality of benefit sanctions, housing benefit is not paid and if you do not engage with Support Services/DWP/Housing Benefit section to resolve this, the placement in temporary accommodation can be lost. Rent income is any Housing Services main and sometimes only source of income.
Temporary Accommodation can be part of the ‘managing expectations’ that I find difficult at times. We can only offer what we have on that day and it can take some families right out of their comfort zone, this is something I understand and sympathise with. Kids are at School in a specific area, your family/friends support is in a specific area and we cannot offer accommodation there. You feel ‘dumped’ in a strange area, difficult and demoralising. Never mind if its hostel type accommodation ! We will always prioritise a family with kids to get them moved out of hostel type accommodation and look to avoid this but not always possible. I’m not immune where my job is concerned and have lost countless night’s sleep and will probably continue to do so with more budget cuts heading our way. It’s very difficult to switch off and there are often ‘that’s it, I need a new job’.
With our own accommodation we manage this ourselves within the Homeless Team and need a quick turnover due to demands on our service. However we face problems with electricity and gas suppliers particularly with prepayment meters and repairs etc. This is all time consuming and frustrating.
When I go into work tomorrow, I have no idea what it will bring.
The guys at See The Invisibles are being very practical, are off their backside and doing this work in their own time, they have been absolutely fantastic !