FINAL EVALUATION OF THE ROUGH SLEEPERS INITIATIVE
CHAPTER 5: SERVICE USERS
5.1 This Chapter presents the views of people who have used RSI funded services. The first part of the Chapter examines how far people feel that services are effective. In the second part of the Chapter, service users describe how far there have been changes in their local area, either as a result of RSI, or other factors. Finally, the third part of the Chapter explores the views of service users in relation to unmet needs and gaps in services for homeless people in their areas.
5.2 The Chapter is based upon focus groups and face-to-face interviews with 32 service users, of whom 12 were female. Respondents included a range of ages, although about half were under 25. Most, but not all, respondents had some experience of rough sleeping, ranging from one or two nights to much longer episodes of rough sleeping stretching over a number of years.
5.3 Respondents were asked for their views and experiences of any services they had used. Respondents commented on the service where they were interviewed - i.e. the service in receipt of RSI funding, and also any other services they had experience of.
Services in receipt of RSI funding
5.4 The majority of respondents expressed strong positive views towards the services in receipt of RSI funding, although this trend was not universal amongst all those interviewed. Some respondents could only comment on the particular service they were using, as this was the only service they had had contact with. However, most respondents had experience of using other services and could make comparisons and judgements about how services varied.
5.5 In many instances, respondents made general comments about how far they valued the RSI funded service, as the following exchange between three respondents illustrated:
Respondent 1: I think this is the best place in [city] I don't know about youse lads, but I think it's the best.
Respondent 2: The best help, whatever the problem is, you can come here, even if it's not related to homelessness, you know what I mean? They'll still help you.
Respondent 3: Whatever help you need, you get it, plus they'll give you clothes, if you're struggling. Like me, I'm brand new, I'm alright, but you get people coming and they're struggling, they've got nothing, they get them good clothes. It's great, this is a great place, it really is.
Physical aspects of services
5.6 However, many comments related to specific aspects of the service that respondents valued. Some of the comments related to the physical attributes of the places where they were staying or using, such as warmth, cleanliness, the level of facilities, or the quality of the food.
It's not like I expected, 'cos I thought it would be a run down place. But it's not. It's clean and that. The rooms are good.
5.7 A safe environment was a key concern for many respondents. Some respondents contrasted their experiences elsewhere with the services they were now using. As one female commented:
I came here from the [hostel] and I was being bullied up there, and there was me getting battered and this and that, and the staff did nothing about it. But if that was happening here, then there'd be something done about it. You know what I mean. It's just totally different.
A discussion between two male respondents also illustrated this point:
Respondent 1: Waking up on the streets, it's no where near a substitute for a bed, to know for a fact that you're going to stay well 'cos you're not freezing, you feel secure. Doors are locked. Only certain people allowed in after certain times.
Respondent 2: It's all cameras, that's another thing I like about it. You can't get idiots walking in, drunk as a skunk.
5.8 However, not all respondents felt comfortable with security arrangements that were highly visible, particularly in relation to the use of CCTV cameras. One respondent commented on the changes that had been made to a daycentre and contrasted the homely feel of the previous décor of the day centre with the new decoration and changes in security, and noted that ' now it just feels like the gaol'.
5.9 The most positive responses related to the support that respondents received from RSI services. The majority of respondents commented favourably on not only the range and quality of support received, but also the general attitude of staff. As two respondents commented:
This place has been really good. I think if I had gone anywhere else I wouldn't have been as far as I am. Come off drugs, the staff here are great. Someone is on hand 24 hours a day - you can always talk to someone. You can pour your heart out and tell them what's wrong. But there's some people who won't go and talk to staff cos they think it's like talking to a policeman. But it's not like that - it's all confidential.
It's just the staff. The staff are really, really good, eh? They know where you're coming from; do their best to help you out. And the right help. They provide a lot of support.
5.10 One aspect of support that was mentioned was helping respondents to deal with other agencies. Some respondents felt confident about contacting other services and were happy to deal with service providers on their own terms. Other respondents valued the support provided by RSI services acting in an advocacy role, attending meetings, or visits to other services, or aspects of dealing with other services such as form filling.
5.11 At the same time, respondents commented about support they also received from other services that they were in contact with. Younger respondents often commented favourably not only about the support they were getting from the particular service in receipt of RSI funding, but also services such as Through Care or After Care, from the Social Work service, or key-workers to help respondents with drug and/or alcohol dependencies.
5.12 However, what was clear from some respondents was that outcomes could be undermined either by the general context within which services operated or because services did not link together particularly well. One respondent discussed the temporary nature of the accommodation he was in and the lack of options for people to move to, relating principally to the lack of available affordable housing:
You're dreading this letter coming [to tell the respondent they must leave their temporary accommodation] . But when it actually comes you're running round like a headless chicken trying to sort things out. And there's not a lot you can do cos there's not a lot actually offered, as far as what to do afterwards.
5.13 Another example was highlighted by two respondents in different case study areas who identified a difficulty combining employment with staying in hostels or supported accommodation. These respondents were critical of the extent to which their benefits were cut if they took up employment, often leaving them with little disposable income, whilst they stayed in their current accommodation, once rent and service charges had been paid.
About six months ago now that was pretty rough and that. I'm glad there was some place like this. At that time it was pretty bad, with drugs and that and what not. But I basically just want to get myself sorted out again. I used to work. This is the longest I've been out of work, this last couple of years. So I really want to get a house and get back into it. Cos you can't really work while you're staying here - too much rent and whatever. So basically just waiting on a house.
My service charge went up just because I was working. They're saying to us you need to go out and get a job and find employment, but you can't do it, cos we can't afford to stay here. That's why everybody here is on DSS…The council need to be thinking, why are we taking so much off, cos they are working. If you stay here it costs 100 pounds a week and if you stay in your own flat it's only 15 a week. So it makes a big difference if you go out and get a job.
5.14 Another respondent was critical of the training and educational opportunities available to people while they were living in supported accommodation. This respondent commented that:
The Scottish Executive should give places like this money to try and get us into courses, d'you ken? Say if you want to get your HGV licence and that. You need to pay for like courses, like bricklaying and things like that, to get us into work. You have to pay for that yourself. They'll pay for you to go college and that like, and university, but….
5.15 Other respondents noted that issues such as drug and/or alcohol dependencies could undermine the effectiveness of services in relation to housing. For example, one male respondent commented:
You've got yourself a house, but if you've got a habit it's easy to be back on the streets again isn't it? You need to get yourself straight and then go through the house process, you know what I mean, cos I've had my house for three years and I'm still struggling with it.
5.16 Respondents commented on any changes they had seen not only in the type and quality of services provided, but also in the local areas where they lived. As part of this discussion, respondents were also asked to comment on how far they felt that services were currently adequate in the areas where they lived.
5.17 It was not always clear that improvements could necessarily be ascribed directly to RSI funding over and above other changes which may have taken place within case study areas. For example, one male respondent noted that:
Well from years ago, they have got better, no? Cos I've been sleeping rough for quite a few years, and I've noticed a difference. People want to help.
5.18 Nevertheless, other respondents were unequivocal in their views on the services that RSI funding had provided in their area. As one male respondent commented:
It's better than it was before, when they never had nothing, man. I never had any support when I was sleeping in the street, apart from my family. And they wouldn't let me in when I was on the drink.
Q: What's changed to make it better?
Well you've got [RSI funded service] now haven't you? You never had that before.
Another respondent noted:
A lot more help, to help us, than they did years ago, with the social. I mean years ago they didnae have access to the social, now they've got access to the social and the council and that. Years ago they didnae have power, now they're getting the power, today it's like that [snaps fingers] you know what I mean? It's a lot better fae us all. Because at one time, you know what I mean, we could just come here and get a wee sandwich and that was it.
5.19 The quote above also highlights a point made by a couple of respondents about the attitudes of service providers to homeless people, and how these attitudes might be changing. However, occasionally respondents were critical of the attitude that they experienced at the hands of either mainstream services, or services aimed specifically at helping homeless people, as a couple of respondents related:
If you walk in with your own address, they're alright with you
I had a problem last week and I spoke to the staff at the hostel. Made me feel so small, it's XXXX, XXXX…I'm no trying to put them all down, but sometimes I wonder if I could be a better support worker myself…
5.20 A couple of respondents noted that whilst the service they used was valuable, they argued that such services should be replicated in other areas of Scotland where it was felt that other homeless people did not enjoy similar facilities:
Respondent 1: I just wish there were more places like here, in this area and in the more rural areas.
Respondent 2: They should be doing this in the cities.
Another respondent in a different case study area commented:
I pity people staying out on the streets, I really do. Especially when there's places like this, providing help. We need more of them. Especially in the Glasgow area and the Edinburgh area. They can put one in Grangemouth, but they can't put one in certain parts of Glasgow. What's the point in that?
5.21 The above quote notwithstanding, services in Edinburgh seemed to be particularly well-regarded, and not just by respondents who currently used services in Edinburgh itself. One respondent who now lived in Glasgow noted:
I think Edinburgh's a bit more advanced than here, to be honest with you. I'm not gonnae lie because I've spent a few years in Edinburgh and I've seen how it's a lot more advanced…It's far ahead, much more ahead o' us, definitely, it's just, see the way they link it up, they've got it all perfect, it was like 'oh, you're homeless, are you staying near here?' 'Aye', 'here's this, go to this place', 'right, here's where you gonnae be staying', away, nae messing about…
5.22 However, there was not universal support for the changes that RSI funded services had brought. In one case study area, RSI funding had led to the conversion of a nightshelter to a day centre. This change was not well received amongst the respondents of the focus groups in this case study, since it was felt that there was still a need for a nightshelter, and that the new service was less welcoming than the former service which had been run by the voluntary sector.
5.23 Where respondents felt that things had got worse, a common view across the case study areas was that this was because of an increase in the use of drugs within the population at large. In relation to rough sleepers, respondents valued the opportunity afforded by services that welcomed people in, whatever issues they faced:
They try their hardest to get you off the street, you know what I mean? To find you somewhere….I was barred from the Council hostels. They got me into [hostel] …that's how I got started on my road to recovery. Just getting intae a hostel, with a doctor in it that prescribed methadone. I stayed in it for two and a half years.
5.24 However, some respondents felt that the use of drugs and/or alcohol was the cause of considerable tensions within services:
There's a certain, a certain nightlife, in Glasgow, I suppose that's the way tae put it, with drugs and that. This place is supposed to be somewhere to get away from it, a place to come and get a free meal, soup, anything, some tea, change o' gear, but there's a lot of people that abuse it.
See, there's heroin users in here but I'm actually recovering. Myself, I'm actually off it, so I'm trying to keep myself away frae that, cos it's easy for me to relapse. But they're all my pals so I cannae just say look - OK see you later. That's what I was saying to staff last night. I feel like I'm in a catch 22 here.
5.25 Certainly providers face a difficult balancing act in terms of dealing not only with very diverse needs, but often with people with very complex issues as well, and of necessity some people have to take one step back to perhaps make progress in the future, as one respondent commented:
Some are out of control and get warnings and get thrown out. But even if they throw you out, they'll make sure you've got somewhere to go.
Unmet needs and gaps in services
5.26 As noted in the previous section, one of the changes that respondents commented on in the areas where they lived was an increase in the use of drugs. A clear message from a number of respondents was the need for services to help people deal with drug addictions. It was felt that there was insufficient provision around detox and rehabilitation. In particular, as one female respondent commented, services in this respect seemed to be aimed at men. A different female commented:
That's the problem with Inverness. There's no facilities. There's no place you can go for a rehabilitation, for drugs, you know the place you go to, detox, there's nothing. I've supported myself for four and a half weeks. For four and a half weeks I've been off it. And I think I've done alright, but there's nobody here.
5.27 As the above quote illustrates, there was a concern over the amount of specialised accommodation available, but a further theme amongst some respondents was the extent to which agencies take ownership of a complex range of difficulties and issues that single individuals may face. Some respondents noted a lack of support for people with mental health issues, and this problem was often linked with an inability to access mental health services for people with drug and alcohol dependencies. Respondents felt that they were falling between two stools in this respect. As one male highlighted:
I was on the waiting list for three years. While I was in X which is a hostel. I was in there for three year. And then I got a house. But they never helped me with my mental health problems or anything. Even now nobody has helped me with my mental health problems. They brought in a couple of support workers. And they didn't help me. Because I've got to come off the drink. If I don't come off the drink, they can't treat me. They expect you to stop drinking the next day. You cannae do it.
I've been having mental health care since I was three years old. But they don't seem to want to help you at all. I've been 17 years under the mental health Act, but they just seem to shunt us aside. I've got a heroin addiction 'cos I can't deal with my past, and psychiatrists were giving us prescription after prescription for different tablets.
5.28 Across the case study areas, many respondents commented on the suitability of available tenancies in relation to their geographical location. In some cases, respondents commented on the lack of affordable housing that was available in their area. In other instances, respondents felt that it was not the lack of available accommodation that was the issue, but their location in areas where they had experienced anti-social behaviour. As one male respondent related:
You can walk about, you ken, and no-one will give you bother. You couldn't even walk about the streets without someone starting on you an' that.
5.29 However, in one of the case study areas, one male respondent was angry not so much at the lack of available property, but at a policy of making use of accommodation in other authorities and sending people there:
These people here will give you a lot of help but the rules up at the council are just mental. They're just pissing me off. They don't have a XXXXing Scooby8. Send them down to Glasgow and tell them to stay there for a week, they'd find out why I don't want to go down there.
5.30 The majority of respondents across the case study areas expressed a firm desire for independent living in a mainstream tenancy, as one female highlighted, whilst also stressing the value of support to help people:
I'm 23 years old. I just want a house basically and to get on with it. But there's a lot in here do have needs and are here quite a long time. Last year there was a lot of people self harming, things like that. And there's a lot of kids been abused and things that need support.
5.31 In most instances, these respondents wanted to rent from the local authority or a housing association. A small number of respondents commented that help to gain access to privately rented accommodation would be beneficial, in relation to paying a deposit and/or rent in advance. In this respect a couple of respondents noted the existence of rent deposit schemes as being particularly valuable. One reason that was cited for wanting to rent privately was greater personal choice over where respondents might live: private lets tended to be concentrated in the centre of towns or cities, and away from 'problem' areas.
5.32 However, a couple of respondents felt that other options and choices should be available. In one instance, these needs related to long term experiences of homelessness and support requirements. As one older male respondent commented:
I've been that dependent on people for most of my days so.. I've never really thought of getting a house. I wouldn't be able to manage a budget, electricity, phone bill, whatever. And plus I can't cook, so…
5.33 However, a couple of other respondents discussed the need for accommodation where people could address a complex range of issues. For example, one female respondent commented on the need for accommodation where people could also deal with their drug and/or alcohol dependencies, and also highlighted a desire for shared accommodation to combat isolation:
I don't want to move out of here, but I've got to go cos I'm only young so they've got to put me into a tenancy. But I know that I'll keeping coming to these places, because I really don't like living on my own. But if I do get my own place I want to try and get put into like supported accommodation. But I couldn't be without my outreach worker. If it wasn't for her, you ken, I'd probably still be out on the street…..What they're doing here is like making flats for old people cos they're going to be long term here, they know they're not going away from here. Some want to be built for young people. The government should put money into that. Like sheltered housing for young people, that can't move on.
5.34 A number of respondents in different case study areas highlighted the need for advice and information for homeless people, to let them know what services were available, and also what level of service they might reasonably expect from service providers. For example, one respondent discussed whether things were getting better or worse in the town where he lived and commented:
What I would say is there's just a lot of people with drug problems. But I still say they should advertise. Because a lot of people out there dinnae ken of them. They're oblivious to what there is until they go and try and get a house. And then when you put down homeless they'll tell them about the [access centre for homeless people] . That's what you need to find out about.
5.35 The need for information and advice was also highlighted by a couple of respondents who noted the perceptions of some rough sleepers towards making use of the services available. In some instances, respondents talked about people they knew who preferred to sleep rough in preference to staying in a hostel out of a concern for their personal safety and well-being: staying in a hostel was felt to be worse. However, it was clear that safety was not the only reason, as one respondent related:
…there should be enough places for everybody who is homeless to be in some place. Nobody should be on the street. But some people like it. I ken a couple of people who say, 'I prefer being on the street to being in a hostel'.
Interviewer: Do you think hostels put some people off?
Aha, some people don't like working with staff. A lot of hostels you have a keyworker, but some just want to be in overnight and then get out again - they aren't interested in working with staff or anybody else.
5.36 The continued need for outreach and streetwork was also highlighted. As one respondent commented:
There's people that like living on the street. They like sleeping in graveyards. And I've got friends that like sleeping in graveyards. They've done it that long they're used to it. People try so hard for them to get into a hostel, and they feel isolated. Or they've been in prison for so long that they just want to be out in the fresh air. And it's amazing the number of people you think, 'why don't you just get up off your bum and get someone to help to help you'.
5.37 On the whole RSI services were well regarded by most respondents, although this view was not universal. Where respondents commented favourably on the services they were using, these often related to factors such as the physical attributes of the service such as warmth, safety, cleanliness and facilities. However, the most positive comments were focused on the support that respondents had received and the general attitude of staff.
5.38 Some respondents reported difficulties with the operation of the benefits system in relation to maintaining, or taking up, employment whilst living in accommodation with a high rent and service charge.
5.39 Respondents commented on changes in the areas where they lived. Some respondents were positive about the changes in the level of services that were available to homeless people, although there was a feeling that insufficient help was available either in the case study areas themselves, or more broadly across Scotland. The positive comments about RSI services by some respondents were tempered with the view that such services should be replicated elsewhere. However, not all changes brought about as a result of RSI funding were viewed as positive. In one case study area there was a general feeling amongst the respondents that changes had led to a different type of service, which was viewed as less welcoming.
5.40 In a couple of case study areas, respondents commented on the lack of available affordable housing as an important factor that limited their options. Other respondents, particularly in Glasgow and Edinburgh, noted that housing may be available, but it was not necessarily felt to be suitable because it was in areas that were perceived as 'rough': respondents wanted accommodation in areas where they could feel safe.
5.41 Most respondents were keen to live in their own home. However, a small number of respondents preferred other options such as supported accommodation or shared living. These latter respondents tended to be either older people with considerable experience of a chaotic lifestyle, or younger people with a range of needs that may include housing, mental health, drug and/or alcohol dependencies and experience of abuse.
5.42 A key issue for many respondents was the opportunity to make use of accommodation and support services where they had drug and/or alcohol dependencies, sometimes in addition to issues in relation to their mental health. Respondents commented on gaps in provision such as rehabilitation services, particularly for women. In part, these gaps were attributed to a failure by some agencies to take a rounded view of the complex problems faced by these respondents.