Homelessness prevention efforts must start earlier, report concludes
Efforts to prevent homelessness should start up to six months before a person is at risk of losing their home, an independent homelessness group has concluded.
The Homelessness Prevention Review Group, set up by the Scottish Government in October 2019, has recommended a duty be placed on public bodies to identify people at risk early on.
It also said there should be a duty to act on that information, including a ban on discharging people from institutions if they have nowhere to sleep that night.
Over 30,000 households were assessed as homeless in 2019-20, including more than 15,000 children.
And homelessness charities have warned increasing numbers of people are struggling to meet their housing costs as a result of COVID-19.
The review group said many of the mechanisms currently in place were designed to help those at imminent risk of losing their home rather than preventing homelessness in the first place, and its proposals include clarifying current law to strengthen protections.
Other recommendations include ensuring those at risk of homelessness are provided with the same choice as the general public which is stable and suitable and to ensure services meet the needs of groups most at risk, including domestic abuse victims and those leaving care.
Group chair Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick said: “Our work was guided by three principles: that there should be a collective responsibility across public services to prevent homelessness; that intervention to prevent homelessness should start as soon as possible; and that those at risk of homelessness should have greater choice in where they live and access to the same options as other members of the public.
“The homelessness system should become the safety net it was intended to be rather than a default response to housing problems. The recommendations in this report hold the potential to radically change the face of the homelessness system in Scotland.”
The group had been set to publish its report last summer, but it was delayed by the first lockdown from March.
It has now been passed to the Scottish Government for further consideration.
Housing Minister Kevin Stewart said: “Ending homelessness is a priority for the Scottish Government so I welcome the recommendations in this report, which focuses on the importance of preventing homelessness from happening in the first place.
“The report also highlights the importance of a whole-system, person-centred approach to our goal of preventing homelessness, for example through the work of health, education and justice services.”
He added: “I now look forward to working with COSLA and all our other partners to discuss how we can put these proposals into action.”