To be fair the title may be a teensy weensy bit of an exaggeration!
The scale up of Housing First Consortium Glasgow started in reality back in November 2018. An exciting time, a time of interest and cooperation between partners. Being part of The Pathfinder project was something new and innovative. Four different 3rd sector agencies were looking to work together and all aiming for the same outcomes.
Myself as the service manager, a service coordinator, a couple of senior support staff and on the lookout for a suitable office space. Policies, procedures, liaising with HSCP Glasgow as partners, keeping an awareness of what other organisations could bring to the service and a lot of empathy and understanding all round.
Agreeing a referral pathway for the service with our HSCP was not always an easy task; as 3rd sector and how I had been used to working previously in Housing First, well I knew what I wanted - oh and the HSCP knew what they wanted. Unfortunately, the two didn’t always go hand in hand. However, we all marched on with a common goal, meeting regularly, e mailing back and forth and many phone calls later we all came to an agreement.
In Glasgow it was decided that we would go with an already provided list to start us off. People who had been homeless for a long time and who were known to most services in the city. Those who found it difficult to maintain supported accommodation and those who had multiple and enduring needs.
We soon realised that it wasn’t always taken into account how much time it can take to find individuals who often go in and out of different accommodations, have a period staying withfriends or decide to rough sleep for a while; then once you have found them you must try to start building a relationship. Being able to get a tenancy of your own with personal and flexible built in support and funding for furnishings wasn’t always the draw for people that we had hoped it would be.
We had been working in partnership with many RSL’s already in Glasgow through our original Housing First service and I had hoped that this was something that I would be able to continue with the new Pathfinder project. Wheatley was on board and were providing tenancies for us already, and looking to increase what they could offer.
However, we quickly saw that other RSL’s were far more limited in what they could offer. So as a solution we arranged an event and attempt to engage those RSL’s in our process. (For those who don’t know Glasgow, there is no Local Authority housing and all lets are made by Housing Associations, of which there are approximately 66. So all in all not an easy task…) The turnout was less than expected, but at least it was a start.
Within our partnership working though we were all building more effective relationships with each other, and then referrals and assessments began to outgrow the number of staff we had on board.
Obvious answer? Another recruitment drive. We need to be able to meet the demands for housing and support, and those are many. Recruitment complete ✔ Start dates organised ✔ New assessments lined up ✔
In the meantime, we were starting to hear about a virus possibly coming from China, then several people returning from skiing in Italy seemed to have the virus as well. Then? Well you all know the answer to that one…..Yes a National Lockdown. Everyone working from home, no lets being made anywhere and trying to induct staff “remotely” all proved to be very difficult.
We did manage though, we made plans, we got lap tops for all staff to take home, we were able to set up access to our organisational server and we purchased phones for all service users who didn’t have one. Referrals and assessments went on hold and the focus went on to the most vulnerable individuals.
There was some amazing partnership working during this period, all organisations keeping each other up to date with regards to who had managed to see service users, and with the HSCP we started to participate in their RAG rota (Red a list of those most vulnerable, Amber, a bit less so and Green those who were further on in recovery).
As key workers staff were able to do outreach work, kept to a minimum and using all precautions to remain safe. This also meant we were able to complete inductions with new staff as they could double up with more experienced colleagues. It was definitely difficult and took longer than usual. It wasn’t easy for those starting in a new job and nor was it easy for management to plan, but it was done and it was successful.
Since that initial period we have had other new staff and also been in and out of more than a few lockdowns. Having done it once though then it was definitely easier to do it again.
Rough sleepers in Glasgow were, and still are, all placed in city centre hotels during the pandemic and we were able to support statuary colleagues by going into the hotels and assessing those individuals who met the criteria for Housing First. So much planning, so many different risk assessments and some truly amazing staff who were willing to participate in this process.
Referrals were reopened and assessments were able to be carried out again. In the realisation that we were all going to have to work in this way for a long time to come we have all adapted our practice. We have been able to organise and hold other RSL events; this has been achieved this by all partners working together, and of course having the use of technology.
Wheatley is still our main provider of tenancies in Glasgow, Queens Cross are coming up from the back and other smaller RSL’s are buying in slowly, though the significant point is that they are buying in. We shall though continue to persevere with all of course, because that’s what we do.
The Pathfinder project ends in March 2021, not long now. It would be fair to say that we have all learned many lessons, and new skills, throughout. Though we knew it was going to be an innovative piece of work I don’t think anyone of us could have imagined how innovative we would have to be throughout the whole process.
By the end of March, we will have supported approximately 160 individuals with complex and enduring needs into their own homes, individuals who never thought they would ever have a home to call their own. For most of those individuals it would be safe to say that without Housing First they never would have.
So I am happy to say that all in all not a bad job really!
Liz Littler, Service Manager, Housing First Consortium Glasgow