FINAL EVALUATION OF THE ROUGH SLEEPERS INITIATIVE
CHAPTER 3: THE IMPLEMENTATION AND EFFECTIVENESS OF THE RSI FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF LOCAL AUTHORITIES AND NATIONAL LEVEL AGENCIES
3.1 This Chapter contains the findings of the fieldwork interviews with local authority and national level respondents on the implementation and effectiveness of the RSI. It is based on a series of semi-structured interviews conducted by the research team with 26 representatives from 23 local authorities and four individuals involved in the development and management of the RSI programme at the national level. A list of the agencies and local authorities whom the interviewees represented can be found in Appendix One and the topic guide employed can be found in Appendix Two.
3.2 The Chapter begins with a discussion of the views of the respondents on the development and objectives of RSI. The next section of the Chapter reports the views of respondents on the distribution of the funding provided by the programme. The remainder of the Chapter reports respondents' views on the specific impacts of RSI in more detail, dealing first with the ways in which the funding has been spent at local level, before moving on to discuss the effectiveness of the programme. The following section reviews the perspectives of the interviewees on the impact that RSI has had on levels of rough sleeping. The Chapter concludes with a discussion of the respondents' views on the future of RSI.
Perspectives on the development and objectives of the RSI
The development of the programme
3.3 Several of the individuals interviewed for the evaluation were able to offer detailed insight into the development of the RSI programme, from both a national and local perspective. Representatives from Shelter Scotland took the view that their organisation had taken the initiative in campaigning for a Scottish RSI, pressing the case from around 1994 onwards. From Shelter's perspective, some other groups within the voluntary sector were initially nervous about what they saw as a disproportionate focus on rough sleepers and collusion with a "Conservative" agenda to 'narrow the definition of homelessness'. The concern was that a narrowed definition, i.e. focusing resources mainly on people sleeping rough, might take resources away from other areas of homelessness, within a context of year-on-year cuts in public expenditure, especially in housing.
3.4 According to Shelter, there was also concern among some in the voluntary sector that the RSI might somehow lead to a reinforcement of the populist view that sleeping rough was a 'lifestyle choice', rather than a result of the interplay between individual vulnerability and characteristics and socioeconomic factors which research suggested (Anderson et al, 1993). Shelter reported pursuing an agenda to calm these fears and promote the idea of the RSI with a seminar in late 1995, followed by a street count within Glasgow in September 1996. From this point onwards the voluntary sector began to resolve into a more united front backing an RSI.
3.5 From the perspective of a minority of respondents, another important contextual factor in the setting up of the Scottish RSI was the upsurge in nationalism across Scotland in the early 1990s. Shelter and other voluntary sector agencies reported that they were able to capitalise on this, arguing for a distinctly 'Scottish' RSI programme that was distinct from the (then) London focused RSI in England. Several interviewees reported the view that the last Conservative administration saw a Scottish RSI as a means by which the distinctiveness and national identity of Scotland could be advertised at minimal cost. Thus the Scottish RSI was launched in the last months of the Conservative administration, with the incoming Labour administration also confirming that it would wish to continue with the programme.
3.6 According to a few respondents, when the RSI was launched, some local authorities were quite resistant to the idea that they had 'rough sleepers', particularly some rural areas. A few also criticised the 'challenge funding' model by which resources were to be divided up. However, the national commentators all agreed that as money came on stream, voluntary sector and local authorities saw opportunities and earlier opposition began to fade. This perspective was shared by those respondents who were working for local authorities who remembered the early stages of the programme.
The objectives of the programme
3.7 The pre-devolution commitment by the Communities Minister, Wendy Alexander, to 'end the need to sleep rough' by 2003, was reported by a minority of respondents as taking voluntary sector 'bysurprise' in its ambition, but there was recognition of the political need for a target. A minority of respondents viewed this target as less 'hard-nosed' than the absolute reduction driving the RSI/RSU programme in England, allowing for a more flexible approach. This 'flexible' target was seen by several respondents as positive, in that it was, in their view, more likely to allow services to focus on hard to reach groups of people sleeping rough, rather than devote their efforts to delivering evidence of rapid resettlement, something that might raise the temptation to engage only with those people sleeping rough who could be rehoused, and sustained in a tenancy, relatively easily.
3.8 This perceived flexibility of the RSI programme was viewed as important by respondents because of the very different nature of the problem in Scotland when compared to England. Rough sleeping did not, it was felt, exist at the same levels or in the same concentrations as existed in London and some other English cities. Scotland was characterised by more intermittent patterns of sleeping rough (see Chapter Two) and while Glasgow had congregations of rough sleepers in the Necropolis and by the Clyde, there was nothing comparable to the Bullring in London and so a distinctive approach was needed. The perspective of the interviewees who had been involved with the development of RSI at national level was that this distinctiveness had been successfully achieved and that a programme reflecting Scotland's needs, rather than something crudely modelled on the London based programme of a few years earlier, had been developed.
The use of RSI funding
3.9 Glasgow and Edinburgh gained the bulk of the initial RSI funding, around 50 per cent went to Glasgow and around another 25 per cent to the capital. However, there was a desire for a spread of funding and a clear picture of rough sleeping across Scotland and the RSI Steering Group (RSISG) encouraged 'good bids that met the criteria' from outside the main cities. There was a conscious decision that, unlike in England, the Scottish RSI would not be confined to the cities. Effort went in to persuading all local authorities to submit a bid and this approach meant that very few local authorities received nothing at all, with 28 of the 32 authorities in the country receiving at least some RSI funding during the life of the programme.
3.10 Some of the early funding went to smaller rural and other authorities to conduct counts and other research to establish the parameters of their problem, which then enabled them to bid for projects. Scrutiny of bids was relatively intensive, and the RSI funding programme was described by respondents as 'less back of the envelope' than other programmes with which they had been involved. National level respondents reported how the RSISG went on visits to Highland and Moray, for example, as part of the process of assessing the bids from those local authorities. One respondent commented that the RSISG was seeking innovative, forward looking proposals which sought to move people away from the streets rather than simply sustain them in homelessness. According to this respondent, most of the bids received were of reasonable quality, but some were initially rejected and resubmission invited.
3.11 A minority of respondents reported the view that during the early part of RSI there was relatively little performance monitoring beyond ensuring services were up and running as planned. However, respondents also felt that Local Outcome Agreements (LOAs), specifically on use of RSI monies had been introduced fairly early on in the programme and that they seemed a good way to set up grant income, with six-monthly reports on LOAs from the local authorities. At the same time, some local authorities entered into service level agreements with providers or engaged the providers directly in the writing of the LOA; in any case, all agencies were meant to collectively 'sign up to' the LOA and to recognise their contribution to delivery. However, according to a few respondents, the ways in which this was implemented varied and it was up to each local authority as to how it managed its relationship with any voluntary sector providers in receipt of RSI funds. The LOAs were seen as providing some mechanism for monitoring progress, but were also sometimes written in very general terms and in some cases were described as 'aspirational' documents.
3.12 According to some national level respondents, this 'light touch' in terms of central regulation of the RSI programme was deliberate. There was no push from the Scottish Executive for 'hard' indicators because of acceptance that outcomes with rough sleepers were very 'hard to determine' (see Chapters Two and Four). The variation in degree of monitoring was in keeping with the flexibility of the programme; however, the lack of detailed prescription did seem to have created difficulties in particular local authorities, according to a few respondents.
The uses to which RSI funds were put
3.13 Not all the local authority respondents were able to provide details on the ways in which RSI funding had been spent in their area. Some had not been in post during the initial spending rounds, or were relying on their memories, when trying to respond to questions about how RSI funds had been spent.
3.14 The single most common use of RSI funds appeared to help support rent deposit schemes, which tended to be found in those areas which were more rural. Although these services appeared to be the most common, they represented only a low proportion of the total expenditure by RSI.
3.15 Rent deposit schemes were sometimes coupled with outreach or support worker services designed specifically to respond to the needs of people sleeping rough. In a few rural areas, RSI money had been used to fund a generic rough sleeper worker or workers, who provided housing advice, low intensity support, advocacy and help with securing emergency accommodation. These small scale worker-based outreach services could be the core of provision in more rural areas.
3.16 The distribution of direct access and emergency accommodation funded through RSI was mainly in favour of authorities administering larger towns and cities. However, a few more rural local authorities had direct access provision funded through RSI. Street work teams, which tended to have quite significant budgets and tended to be services funded wholly or largely through RSI, were only found in the main cities. Daycentres funded by RSI were only reported by local authority respondents working for cities.
3.17 The early grants under RSI were often for capital projects and these were very often for direct access, hostel or supported accommodation of various kinds. This capital investment in direct access accommodation reflected not only the inappropriate nature of some of the emergency accommodation available in the large cities in Scotland, but also its absence in many other parts of the country. Some areas had no direct access prior to RSI funds being made available to develop it.
3.18 Investment of RSI resources in specialist drug, alcohol and mental health services was mainly confined to Glasgow and Edinburgh. However, Renfrewshire did use RSI funds to employ a mental health worker on a drop-in basis. Projects aimed at prisoners and ex-prisoners were reported by six local authorities 5.
3.19 A diversity of other projects were reported as having been funded through RSI:
- two projects aimed at assisting women involved in prostitution (in Glasgow and Edinburgh);
- furniture projects (Edinburgh and Angus);
- the provision of a part-time nurse and full-time senior social worker for homeless or roofless clients (Argyll and Bute and Falkirk respectively);
- training/employment support for young people (West Lothian);
- a rural 'night-stop' for young people (South Lanarkshire).
3.20 In Glasgow, RSI funded a wide variety of both statutory and voluntary sector services, but many of these services had moved to mixed funding, especially after the introduction of the Supporting People programme. The city also had a number of other budgets, notably the hostel 'decommissioning' resources, 'homelessness strategy' money 6, as well as Health Board and Social Work funds.
3.21 In Edinburgh, RSI funds were similarly spread across a large number of services, most of which were also supported from a variety of other sources. One interviewee in the Capital found it difficult to talk about RSI as a discrete programme in the context of this high degree of integration with other funding streams:
We don't operate the rough sleepers monies separately from our homelessness strategy monies now, we've rolled it into a single budget, effectively a homelessness services commissioning budget, which was again from discussions with the Executive…we have, as a sub-group of the homelessness planning group, a commissioning group which I established to pull together people from health, social work and housing and the drug action team, to look at how we take things forward and we've taken all our sources of funding into that, so although we get £1.9 million in relation to rough sleepers money, we get an additional £1.6 million in relation to general homelessness services, so about £3.5 million as a single commissioning budget…if you add then services we've developed under Supporting People around homelessness, then there's probably about another £15 million spent on homelessness there…we are spending well over £20 million on homelessness across the city at the moment.
3.22 Other funding streams had arrived since RSI was first introduced and in the case of the Supporting People, had become much more significant sources of income. Nevertheless, RSI could be used more flexibly than other funding streams, as for example, unlike Supporting People, it was not confined to accommodation based services. The funding of daycentres, street outreach and a range of other services would have been difficult through other funding streams. The RSI was also valued because it provided a discrete budget for services for people sleeping rough. Within rural areas, a minority of respondents felt, RSI helped keep attention on what was sometimes seen as a fairly small social problem which might otherwise, as was the case before RSI, be ignored (see below), while within the cities it was thought to have created both a focus on people sleeping rough and as allowing flexibility in service responses.
3.23 The smaller authorities had generally received only very small amounts of RSI funding, sometimes as little as £25,000 or £30,000 per annum, but some had used this in very imaginative and quite specific ways. For example, East Dunbartonshire had used all of their RSI money per year to fund one full-time post which, though entitled 'Rent Deposit Officer', in fact fulfilled a far broader range of accommodation functions, including:
- running a rent deposit/guarantee service;
- setting up a supported landlady service for young people;
- setting up a 'lead tenancy' scheme to assist non-priority groups;
- helping to access long-term accommodation for 'non-priority' people whom they temporarily accommodate in B&B in Glasgow; and
- setting up a landlords' forum to increase supply/quality within private rented sector.
3.24 The use of RSI monies to assist with rehousing of people sleeping rough and more broadly defined non-priority groups of homeless people was a common approach among those local authorities that had only ever had low levels of rough sleeping. The preventive role of RSI was viewed as being served well by such use of funding in more rural areas. In these areas the number of long-term rough sleepers was very small but there were relatively large numbers of homeless single people either 'sofa-surfing' round friends and relatives, or staying in B&Bs, who were likely to sleep rough at least occasionally, but who had previously received either no services, or only very basic services.
3.25 In England, RSI funding has been effectively used to establish contracts between local authorities and voluntary sector agencies which provided services for people sleeping rough. Direct provision of services by local authorities no longer occurs and outside the actual administration of homelessness applications and development of homelessness strategies, all other functions, including housing management, are contracted out or have been transferred to RSLs. In Scotland, the picture in relation to RSI is quite different in that some funding is used for direct service provision by local authorities. Funding could be used as a means of coordinating services via a local authority organised umbrella, with one national level commentator giving the example of The Access Point in Edinburgh as an example of this. In another case, the main service provision in Inverness, the daycentre funded through RSI, was delivered by Highland Council. However, it was the case that the majority of RSI-funded services reported by local authority respondents were provided through voluntary sector agencies.
Views on the effectiveness of RSI
3.26 The great majority of both the national and local level interviewees thought that the RSI had been a very effective initiative for at least five reasons:
- the new and expanded services it had helped fund;
- the improvements in co-ordination and joint working it had encouraged;
- the improvements in standards and performance it had facilitated;
- the culture and attitudinal change it had brought about at both national and local level; and
- its role as a 'catalyst' for wider changes in homelessness law and policy.
3.27 However, there were some differences of opinion on these issues at local level. Not all the local authority respondents were uncritical of RSI and some had quite mixed opinions as to the degree to which it had been effective in their locality.
New and expanded service provision
3.28 The RSI was generally viewed as enabling a significant increase in the level of service provision, particularly in Glasgow and Edinburgh where most of the spending was concentrated. There was already a range of services addressing the visible problems of rough sleeping in both major cities, but the view of local authority respondents was that these services were able to be made 'better and more comprehensive' than would otherwise have been the case. Difficult to fund services, such as 'wet' provision (which allows people sleeping rough to drink) had become a much more practical prospect because of RSI in the view of some local authority respondents in these cities.
3.29 This view of RSI was most strongly expressed in Edinburgh. One local authority respondent in Edinburgh felt that the RSI had been:
… very effective… We were able to build on what were a fair number of services there anyway, but actually to improve those and actually to enhance the opportunities for people…I think it funded the services that were difficult to fund before. I mean, the people who are homeless, and sleeping rough… rarely get a service from mainstream Community Care services… so it gave people other means of getting assistance…this was dramatically taken forward by Supporting People, but it's enabled them to access things that were not there before.
3.30 In Glasgow, it was also felt that many aspects of services for rough sleepers had been much improved and the RSI had made a considerable impact. Several interviewees said that, while now overshadowed by other developments, the RSI was the crucial starting point, as one put it 'it was the catalyst, the start'.
3.31 Respondents within Glasgow had mixed views on the ways in which RSI funding had been used within the city. These respondents wondered if it had always been spent in the most efficient ways, a concern centred on strongly contrasting views about the extent to which GHN had been expected to undertake an 'inappropriate' monitoring role of RSI funded services by the city, as opposed to the city taking on this role directly. Opinions were quite sharply divided on this subject.
3.32 The other main urban areas in Scotland also benefited considerably from RSI investment, and respondents felt that the service response to people sleeping rough was much improved, as one put it:
I think it's been a phenomenal success story for Dundee…I think it's targeted services to a priority area…it's maximising the use of hostel accommodation as best as we possibly can, it's brought far better accommodation through capital investment…it's brought rented properties from the private sector into use and the RSI member of staff now has a really good relationship with some of the landlords…outreach and resettlement has done some good work…(Local authority respondent, Dundee).
3.33 However, what was perhaps more striking than these impacts were the 'dramatic' impacts of RSI reported by local authority respondents in more rural parts of Scotland where previously there had been no services at all. The RSI was viewed as successful in establishing services from a zero base and ' raising the possibility' of direct access accommodation and other services in these areas.
People who access the services provided by the Rough Sleepers Initiative don't only get somewhere to sleep but also all the support that goes along with it, it's ongoing support, it's intensive support which is shaped to their individual needs and there have been a number of success stories where people have been able to move on, get homes, get employment and overcome a lot of difficulties that they were facing and I don't think that would have happened if there hadn't been that kind of project. (Local authority respondent, Argyll and Bute)
I mean for Perth and Kinross I would say categorically that the national programme and the fact that we were able to access funding were fundamental to establishing services locally, which were needed, because people were actually sleeping rough…without that catalyst, I guess, we'd have been waiting for Supporting People money to come along before there would have been that funding in the system. (Local authority respondent, Perth & Kinross)
3.34 Similarly, many of the small urban authorities around Glasgow were very positive about the possibilities that the RSI opened up for them. In East Dunbartonshire, for example, RSI funded a single post which focused on finding accommodation for non-priority groups who otherwise wouldn't have got a service beyond the statutory minimum: 'wouldn't have been able to do it otherwise'.
3.35 Several interviewees, across a range of types of local authority, made the point that the RSI services picked up groups who would hitherto not have received any service at all, who were not seen as the local authority or anyone else's responsibility:
Rough sleeper services tend to pick up the most chaotic, the people who are not gonnae survive…but people who are not going to be able to cope with supported accommodation yet, or a hostel, where their behaviour may well rub up against other residents…so what we have in Perth is rough sleeper services that pick up on that chaotic group and that group that are still gonnae drink and still gonnae misuse…(Local authority respondent, Perth and Kinross)
3.36 Likewise an interviewee in Inverclyde thought the RSI a 'wonderful' initiative because it provided the impetus to open up services not just to rough sleepers but to other highly marginalised groups:
People who were excluded, [RSI] opened the door for them, you've got rights!
3.37 A few respondents felt that the amounts of money received by their local authority were just too small to make a major impact, or that their locality never really had a problem with rough sleeping.
It contributed to an overall strategy to deal with homelessness, but you cannot say more than that. It would not be meaningful in this context to say 'this was the number of rough sleepers beforehand, this was the number of rough sleepers afterwards'…(Local authority respondent)
3.38 However, this was a minority view, even in the rural and small urban areas. The perceived success and disproportionate impact of RSI, even where very small amounts of money were involved, were attributed to its highly flexible nature.
Funding remains quite small in comparison to other funding streams.. but it's an important source because of the way it's set up, it allows us to use it in a way that we can't use other funds. A lot of conditions are attached to Supporting People and homeless strategy funding. As long as can justify that meeting the needs of clients who sleep rough we can use it to fund new services. (Local authority respondent, North Ayrshire)
Joint working and co-ordination
3.39 There was a definite sense from the local authority respondents that the RSI got people talking to each other. This varied between local authorities, but in some areas, where the local authority and voluntary groups had never had any interaction they had often sat down together to prepare the RSI bid.
RSI was probably the first time different agencies had sat round the table. (Local authority respondent)
3.40 Local authority respondents sometimes took the view that this was very important, for example, in the later development of homelessness strategies because RSI strategy groups were often already in place and could form the core of steering groups developing the broader homelessness strategy. This joint working, it was felt, had often fed through into better co-ordination of local services than had hitherto been the case.
3.41 Among the local authority respondents, there was much talk of a new emphasis on 'partnership' working prompted by the RSI, with it playing a key role in establishing and reinforcing a network of services. The participation of mainstream services in this was highly variable, but particularly with regards to health there was often reported to be a far better co-operation than previously, and interviewees across a range of authorities reported an improved response to rough sleepers from mainstream services. However, in many areas it was felt that there was still room for greater co-ordination and co-operation between services (see Chapters Four and Five).
3.42 Among Glasgow respondents it was always emphasised that much had been achieved and that, at least until recently, an ongoing reduction in rough sleeping had occurred. Yet a few felt that the scale of the RSI programme, alongside the need to administer a range of other large grant streams associated with homelessness which had become available over recent years, such as Supporting People and the hostel closure programme monies, had meant that RSI was not always as well organised as it could have been. In some cases, as already discussed, there were strongly contrasting points of view about the roles GHN and the City Council had undertaken within RSI, with criticisms being aimed at both.
3.43 Glasgow respondents acknowledged that the city was 'starting from a different place' than other councils in terms of the scale of the problem it was facing and this would inevitably make implementation more complex than elsewhere. It was also felt that strategic coordination, joint working and monitoring of services had all improved within the city and that very considerable progress had been made in tackling rough sleeping. At the time of writing, new management structures have been put in place by the Homelessness Partnership within Glasgow, alongside individual contract monitoring officers for each RSI service.
3.44 Respondents in Edinburgh, both from within the City Council and among service providers and service users, took the view that rough sleeping services and homelessness services within the Capital were unusually well coordinated. All service providers, working with people sleeping rough and all other homeless people, made regular submissions to the City's ECHO (Edinburgh Council Housing Outcomes) database which collected statistical data on service outcomes.
Standards and performance
3.45 Several respondents also noted that the RSI introduced notions of standards and performance in services for people sleeping rough, whereas previously some voluntary and charitable projects were portrayed by local authority respondents as somewhat amateurish operations run on tiny budgets by very small local organisations. According to these respondents, RSI funding brought a greater expectation that services would monitor their activities systematically and employ 'good practice'. Several local authority respondents reported significant improvements in service standards as a result of RSI funding. In one rural area, services were reported as basic prior to RSI, but as having been improved following its introduction.
We're not always able to take people from rough sleeping to a white cottage with a white picket fence, nonetheless, we are making some progress with people, even if it's only insofar of us getting a good assessment of what it is that's led to you being homeless and what are the fundamental things we need to help you address. What you're always going to come back to is: "is the client at the place where they're able to take things on, address something like an addiction, a difficult upbringing" ,because you can be dealing with somebody who is very, very damaged. Nonetheless,[if you mean] being able to put them into temporary accommodation in the first instance, having identified those issues and working to support them, then we have made some progress. (Local authority respondent, Highland).
3.46 As Chapter Five makes clear, these service improvements were widely appreciated by those with experience of rough sleeping. However, the increases in more formal practice and increased monitoring associated with RSI was not universally welcomed by service users.
Raising awareness and promoting cultural change
3.47 A great many interviewees emphasised that the RSI had been as much about cultural and political change as about service provision. One national level commentator said that in Scotland (and elsewhere in the UK) workers in the field had 'been told since 1977 than homelessness wasn't rough sleeping'. Rough sleepers were, according to this respondent, not part of the homelessness client group and not a mainstream policy concern. This changed with RSI, as they 'put rough sleeping on the political radar'. The cultural impact at local level was often described as profound by local authority respondents, particularly in persuading 'reluctant authorities' to engage with the issue:
I mean, initially, it attracted funding into the authority for an area of service that was a bit of a Cinderella type service, nobody really wanted to talk about homelessness issues at a corporate level at one time, it was kind of pushed to one side and RSI raised the profile a lot…it showed there was a core of people who slept rough...a core of people with mental health problems, a core of people who were chaotic, that we had no services to deal with, it put a focus on that. (Local authority respondent, Moray).
3.48 This cultural impact of the RSI was partly attributed to the early investment in outreach workers/research projects (particularly in smaller places) that provided crucial information not just on rough sleeping but on 'non-priority' homelessness: information that would prove crucial at a later stage in the development of homelessness strategies.
3.49 The political and policy 'lead' taken by the Scottish Executive in driving this agenda was viewed as important by a minority of respondents. In several local authorities the point was made about the negative perception amongst local councillors about homeless people in general - ' they think all are a problem'; 'have to convince that they are not a homogeneous group, not all anti-social'. Reference was sometimes made to 'old diehard' council members with 'reactionary' views which meant there was little chance of persuading them to spend local resources on this unpopular group: '…in places like X nothing would ever have changed without intervention from the Centre'. Those who wanted to make a difference at local level in these areas found the RSI empowering, especially as there was money attached:
…it's amazing how much more local political support is forthcoming when money is attached to it.
3.50 In most cases the increased profile for rough sleeping associated with RSI was seen as highly positive. But in a few cases respondents said that, while RSI did put rough sleeping 'on the map', this could also sometimes have a negative effect, with some local politicians and media viewing RSI as 'attracting' rough sleepers from elsewhere:
For them, homelessness is down and out on Princes Street…comments such as 'we don't mind helping homeless people from our area, but we don't want rough sleepers'…
3.51 In most local authority areas, some improvements in awareness and cultural change in mainstream services were noted, particularly in health. Some headway did seem to have been made in viewing rough sleepers as in legitimate need of service provision and as having support needs as well as a need for accommodation. Very significant changes had taken place in this respect in Glasgow and Edinburgh, with specialist health, social work and other services for rough sleepers and other homeless groups, though this was seen in terms of the combined effect of RSI with other initiatives, notably health and homelessness action plans. Elsewhere, the degree of improvement was viewed as quite slight, with practical problems in access to appropriate services remaining, especially in relation to mainstream health services.
Wider cultural and policy change
3.52 Finally, the RSI was widely credited with having contributed to the cultural and political change at national level that led to the Homelessness Task Force, the 2001 and 2003 legislative changes, and the development of homelessness strategies. Phrases like 'it was the catalyst', 'it kick-started things','it blazed the trail'; and 'it smoothed the passage [of the legislation] ' were often used, and by local authority respondents, as much as by those at national level. The RSI was viewed as having brought the problem to national attention and generating the necessary 'political drive' to do something about it.
3.53 A few other respondents drew attention to what they saw as another effect of RSI, which was the way in which they perceived it having influenced the work of the Homelessness Task Force. The Task Force focus on all forms of homelessness was, in the view of a few respondents, in part a response to the RSI being viewed as already 'plugging a needs gap'. As rough sleepers were already receiving specific attention through RSI, this enabled the task force to focus on homelessness in a broader sense, considering issues such as support needs among homeless families.
3.54 As at local level, it was felt that the RSI had had a positive impact on joint working and co-ordinated efforts at national level:
The Homelessness Task Force grew out of the success of the RSI National Steering Group - the success of the voluntary sector, COSLA and Scottish Executive working together at official level. (National level commentator).
The impact of RSI on rough sleeping
The overall impact
3.55 The national level commentators generally felt that the decline in people sleeping rough reported by the GSR research (see Chapter Two) 'rang true', as did most local authority respondents:
Well, we don't have people sleeping in 'phone boxes anymore, which we did have…(Local authority respondent, Argyll & Bute)
It's very clear from the data we've got that people are spending less time on the streets than they used to do and that where people are going through repeated episodes of rough sleeping, the balance between rough sleeping and being accommodated is shifting towards the accommodated side. All of that pulls down the numbers of people sleeping rough on the streets. (Local authority respondent, Edinburgh)
…the main effect, here in the daycentre, is that on a day to day basis, there's not as many people sleeping rough, there are people who are in all sorts of circumstances…but the actual incidence of rough sleeping is down… (Local authority respondent, Highland)
3.56 These reductions in rough sleeping were largely attributed to a more effective set of services which RSI had been instrumental in creating, either by allowing the development of new services where none had existed before, or by allowing innovation and expansion within existing services. However, the reductions in rough sleeping were also seen in terms of the wider changes in homelessness policy and funding, including Supporting People, the health and homelessness action plans and the funds made available for homelessness strategies. RSI was making a continuing contribution to the reductions in rough sleeping and had in the view of many respondents, as already noted, 'kick-started' the development of coordinated and better funded strategic responses to rough sleeping and all forms of homelessness. At the same time, the reductions in rough sleeping were seen as arising through the cumulative effect of these strategic responses.
Difficulties in reaching some groups of people sleeping rough
3.57 While the GSR research (see Chapter Two) reported that the target to 'end the need to sleep rough' had been narrowly missed, many local authority respondents felt that the target had been met in their area, or, as one put it, was 'very well on the way'. However, many local authority respondents referred to the presence of small, or very small groups of people sleeping rough who were characterised by high level support needs, quite often multiple support needs, including coexisting mental health problems and a drug or alcohol dependency, whose behaviour could be both challenging and chaotic. These small groups were referred to as being hard to reach or engage with, in part because of their needs and in part because they were mobile. In some rural authorities, local authority respondents referred, literally, to there being one or two individuals in this category within their area at any one point in time. In some of the urban areas, most notably Glasgow, the numbers were felt to be higher.
3.58 Some local authority respondents also referred to the presence of another group of people sleeping rough in their area. This group was characterised as being individuals with low support needs who became homeless and who had little or no idea of where to get assistance. These individuals might spend a night or two, or several nights, sleeping rough before they found their way to services. Some local authority respondents felt that the presence of this group, who once their accommodation needs were met were felt to be quite unlikely to sleep rough again, was reflected in the numbers of people sleeping rough the night before recorded in the HL1 returns (see Chapter Two).
3.59 One final group of people sleeping rough was also identified by some local authority respondents. This group was seen as being made up of precariously housed people who spent their time in one insecure arrangement after another, sleeping on a friend's floor, staying with relatives or 'sofa-surfing' in some other way. On any given night, most of these people would not be sleeping rough, but they faced a heightened risk of rough sleeping because of the inherent insecurity of their living arrangements. Such individuals might spend months or years in these kinds of arrangements and either not know that services were available or choose not to approach them. Although characterised more as potential rough sleepers rather than actual rough sleepers, this group was felt to be hard to reach by some local authority respondents.
3.60 These three groups of people sleeping rough meant that, in the view of some local authority respondents, a permanent elimination of rough sleeping was not likely to occur. However, this was in the context of the bulk of the problem that had existed prior to the introduction of RSI being largely addressed. As one local authority respondent put it:
I think there will always be some people that sleep rough in Dundee and nationally, a small percentage of the population will not be able to comply or not understand what's there or choose not to use it, but I think we are ninety per cent there in terms of what Dundee set out to do in 1997. (Local authority respondent, Dundee)
3.61 A few local authority respondents in rural areas reported that rough sleeping was particularly difficult to measure in their locality. The available services would be focused on the largest town or small city in their area, with no real mechanism for measuring the possible extent of rough sleeping elsewhere. None thought that there was a very significant 'hidden' rough sleeping population in the countryside, but a few talked openly of having no real information about who might be sleeping rough a long way from the nearest large town and the nearest services in their locality. One local authority respondent commented:
Rough sleeping is an impossibly difficult thing to measure anywhere, but particularly in rural areas, where people can, you know, sleep rough for years, without anybody noticing, you know, in old barns and things like that. It is quite difficult and I personally suspect that the incidence of rough sleeping in Angus is significantly higher than it would appear, but we can only go on what we're seeing and what we are seeing in terms of referrals from other agencies who are working with very marginalised people, is that rough sleeping is not a major issue…which suggests that people are managing, through their social networks to find somewhere in a conventional home, to sleep, rather than in a doorway, car or barn or whatever…
Contextual factors and other issues adversely affecting rough sleeping levels in some areas
3.62 Although the general view of local authority respondents was that RSI had been a success, there were a few who took the view that 'avoidable' rough sleeping was still taking place and that the 'need to sleep rough' had not been eradicated in their areas. Glasgow stood out in this respect as commentators were emphatic that, while there had been some decline in rough sleeping over past few years, it may have increased again in the past 6 months or so and that the 'need to sleep rough' had certainly not been eradicated in the city for the following reasons:
- A shortage of emergency accommodation in the city - this was said to be related to both the hostel closure programme, in which some hostel bed spaces had been closed faster than they had been replaced, and 'blockages' in existing and new hostels because of a lack of suitable move-on accommodation. New services coming on stream it was felt would ease the situation but this would take time. This view was echoed by some service providers in the city (see Chapter Four).
- A large number of 'disruptive' homeless people in the city have 'alerts' against their name meaning that they will not be accommodated in local authority accommodation (some service providers referred to these alerts as 'bans', see Chapter Four). This was viewed as contributing to rough sleeping in the city. There was a review of this system currently underway and new, highly intensive services ('enhanced personal support') were planned for the very complex needs of extreme group, estimated to 85 in number who were highly vulnerable through multiple needs, chaotic and presented with challenging behaviour.
- There was a view that even where hostel places were available, some people 'chose' to sleep on the streets because they have experience of the hostels and don't want to go back - 'don't feel they have an option; hostels can be so bad, that sleeping rough can seem better, at least if it's not for long'. One interviewee in the city said that the Scottish Executive target could not be met 'till we close these horrible hostels'. Problems with drugs and violence in some older hostels were mentioned. Again, these views were echoed by both some service providers in the city and some current and former rough sleepers (see Chapters Four and Five).
3.63 Despite the recent problems, some interviewees reported optimism in the city - new services coming on stream, including good quality emergency and supported accommodation using a range of models, intensive support for the most challenging groups, and lots of Supporting People funded housing support. As well as the funding streams and services, also the new legislation and a supportive set of 'local champions' meant that 'a lot of helpful factors have come into play'.
3.64 In some rural areas it was felt that the 'need to sleep rough' had not been ended because of continuing shortages in temporary accommodation. The same views were advanced by service providers in some rural areas (see Chapter Four). As one local authority respondent put it:
I don't even know that it [the target] has been achieved in Oban, because we have people turning up at the hostel and they cannae get in, because it's been full, so I don't think even that has achieved it completely. (Local authority respondent, Argyll & Bute)
3.65 According to some local authority respondents, difficulties in accessing both temporary and permanent accommodation had worsened very recently. This was felt to be because of the increased demand for temporary accommodation following legislative change, undermining responses to rough sleeping:
I would say that up till about six months ago, people had no need to sleep rough in Fife, apart from the odd few, but because of the crisis we are having in temporary accommodation, we suspect that rough sleeping has increased…because we have so many priority cases they are filling up the supported accommodation, so there's nowhere for the rough sleepers to move on to, so you know the direct access hostels are bottlenecked. (Local authority respondent, Fife).
3.66 There were also concerns raised in the areas of greatest 'housing stress' - Edinburgh and rural areas like Highland, Moray, North Fife and South Ayrshire - about the impact of general housing shortages on move-on and long-term solutions. Again, these perceptions were shared by some service providers in some of these localities (see Chapter Four).
Where we've been less effective, and it's not a RSI issue, it's an Edinburgh housing market issue, is actually finding permanent solutions for people…I wouldn't call it warehousing, because people move around, they use different accommodation, people's options are better than they used to be …people do move on, but the reality is that Edinburgh has a massive housing shortage, and no matter what we do in terms of trying to resolve someone's immediate need for accommodation it doesn't change the fact that there's a shortage of housing. (Local authority respondent, Edinburgh).
3.67 For some local authority respondents, there was felt to be key unmet need for supported accommodation, particularly for the small group of people with complex needs and challenging behaviour that was reported to exist in many areas.
What we need is a service that pulls all that together and we recognise it needs to be a specialised accommodation project where all the needs of these individuals can be addressed. It's not enough to put these clients into mainstream accommodation and expect to pull in different services at different times because it just doesn't succeed. (Local authority respondent, North Ayrshire).
The future of RSI
3.68 The views of the respondents on the future of RSI were mixed. Most were of the view that a flexible funding stream allocated specifically to services for people sleeping rough would continue to be important across the country. The only partial exceptions to this view were those local authority respondents who felt that rough sleeping was not a particular issue in their locality; however none of the respondents took the view that a discrete funding stream for rough sleeper services should no longer exist.
3.69 In most instances, the continuation of some services, in whole or in part, depended on this stream of funding. Many respondents reported that if RSI ceased it was not clear what the future of services might be. In several areas it was said that the RSI posts and services would definitely go if the RSI funding ceased as the local authority was seeking to make cuts. In these areas, RSI staff were generally still on temporary contracts tied to the funding stream, in either the voluntary or local authority sector. In a few places, the council-run RSI services` had been mainstreamed in that the post-holder had been moved onto permanent contracts.
…we will be devastated if it ceases, if the funding dries up, we will really, really struggle to continue… (Local authority respondent, Dundee).
3.70 Some local authority respondents felt strongly that the end of a specific stream of money would mean a loss of focus on people sleeping rough:
…rough sleeping might tend to be lost; in the short term we need direct access accommodation which we don't have and trying to argue for that against people with children in B&B and all the rest of it, this kind of competing priorities, I still feel that people sleeping rough are among the most vulnerable and that should be acknowledged…(Local authority respondent, Stirling).
I see it as an ongoing problem and it's one that needs money attached to it. (Local authority respondent, Fife).
3.71 Nevertheless, respondents from some rural and smaller urban authorities felt that, while RSI was a good starting point, it was now best to merge it with general homelessness funding. Many of the local authority respondents working for smaller authorities said that it made sense for them at least for RSI to be merged with homelessness strategy money. For these authorities, rough sleeping was a small social problem within the wider social problem of homelessness, there were not sufficient rough sleepers in their locality to warrant the development of specific services and it made more sense to integrate the flexibility to meet the needs of people sleeping rough within their wider homelessness strategies.
3.72 Views in Glasgow, Edinburgh and some other urban areas were quite different. Edinburgh and Glasgow respondents both took the view that rough sleeper services should be fully integrated within wider homelessness strategy, a process that was seen as largely complete within the Capital, but felt that without specific funding it was difficult to see a future for specific rough sleeper services.
3.73 Within Glasgow, there was a feeling that work with the most vulnerable, marginalised and chaotic people sleeping rough would decline without continued emphasis on this social problem from the Scottish Executive. One Glasgow respondent commented, when questioned how without a specific funding stream, they could continue the work that had been started:
…how do we keep an eye on investments post 2006; are we sustaining what we have achieved, are we building on what we have achieved?
3.74 A local authority representative from Edinburgh explained what they saw as the need for a continuing focus on people sleeping rough within the Capital:
I would like to see some way in which it is linked to the successes that we have had so far, because if we don't do that, the reality is that sometime in the not too distant future things will drift back to where they were…we've got the level of immigration that we have in Edinburgh, no matter what we do locally… so without that, those people will drift into the same sort of lifestyles as the folk who had been sleeping on streets of Edinburgh for a long time, the majority of whom were not natives of the city either…
3.75 Several respondents felt that the RSI programme had 'served its purpose' and had now been superseded by the new homelessness legislation in the 2001 and 2003 Acts. The need for specific funding for services for people sleeping rough remained, although for local authority respondents this was seen as being much more of an issue for the major cities than for most rural and smaller urban areas.
3.76 The ever greater integration of rough sleeper services into homelessness strategies was seen as the key change that was happening by many respondents in advance of the intentionality change to the homelessness legislation, which at the time of writing was envisaged to occur in 2006/7. These legislative changes were already seen by a minority of respondents as creating a new environment in which rough sleeper services could work in a much more effective way, as the mainstreaming of rough sleeping as a social problem advanced. One respondent commented:
...the thing that is quite different in Scotland, compared to England and Wales, was actually the introduction of the Housing Scotland Act and the intentions within that, in relation to homelessness. What I was able to do in Edinburgh was work with colleagues in mainstream homelessness services, and in relation to people sleeping rough, where there were clearly mental health and substance misuse issues, argue that those people were in priority need for medical reasons and therefore able to access a much broader range of accommodation rather than hostels…so we're able to accommodate many more people within the city and yet reduce our hostel places. (Local authority respondent, Edinburgh).
3.77 For those who wished to retain specific funding for rough sleeper services, within a mainstream and integrated homelessness strategy, views where mixed as to how this should be achieved. Some thought that specific duties in relation to rough sleeping placed on local authorities should be extended, others remained in favour of some form of ringfencing (although technically this had already ceased at the time of writing). For a minority of respondents there was a need to ensure that LOAs covered people sleeping rough, to maintain the momentum if RSI was wound up.