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Improving Services for Households Facing Homelessness in Highland

A major survey is being carried out to improve services available to the 1,000 Highland households, who last year came to The Highland Council as homeless or facing the threat of being without a home. Questionnaires are being sent to key agencies, who may provide services to homeless (or potentially homeless) people or have contact with them, including housing organisations, voluntary organisations, GPs, churches, social workers and police. The deadline for responses is 31 January.

The information being sought by the Inverness Council for Single Homeless will allow The Highland Council, NHS Highland and other partners to:

7Identify gaps in current provision of services to the homeless so that services can be developed to fill these;

7Identify those services that could be extended out to other areas of Highland;

7Understand better the extent of homelessness in Highland and the type of problems homeless people in Highland face so that appropriate services can be developed and targeted to those in most need.  The work is being undertaken by Isobel Grigor, a Highland-based consultant, who has extensive experience of providing services for homeless people. The survey will also provide data for a Directory of Services for Homeless People. The first area directory - for Inverness - is expected to become available in spring 2002. The intention is to produce directories for other parts of Highland.

Reported homelessness has doubled since the 1980s. Last year, almost 1,000 households presented to the Council as homeless or potentially homeless.  More than 400 are single person households and around 300 are lone parents with children. Young single people are increasingly presenting as homeless. Nearly a quarter are single people under 25 (22%, 196) while 18% are under 18. They are just as likely to be women as men. 46% of homeless presentations have children (411 households).

It is likely that these figures are an undercount of households facing homelessness in Highland. In rural areas, homelessness tends to be more 'hidden' due to a culture of self-reliance and fewer accessible services.  Households are more likely to make their own arrangements such as sleeping on friends/families floors or other sub-standard solutions. Providing good quality accessible information and improving services is particularly important to these 'hidden' homeless households.

The increase in reported homelessness in the Highlands is mirrored by a continuing increase in the number of applicants seeking housing. There is an overall shortage of housing in Highland - there are currently over 8,000 people on the council's list for housing and many of the Highland housing associations have significant waiting lists.

Alexander Campbell, Chair, Inverness Council for the Single Homeless, said: "Being homeless can strip an individual of their dignity and self worth. Often someone who is homeless can be stereotyped by society and seen as having very little to contribute. The Directory is about empowering homeless individuals to find routes out of homelessness by giving them accurate and quality information. The Directory will look at what services there are in terms of accommodation, health and other relevant resources and it will hopefully identify gaps.

"We also hope that it will help change some of the stereotypes that exist. The Directory in itself is not the solution to homelessness, but it does represent significant progress. It will be developed by speaking to those who are currently homeless and those who have experienced homelessness as well as any organisations, who offer services to homeless people. Another very positive aspect of the project is the partnership working approach which sees The Highland Council, Highland NHS Board and Inverness Council for the Single Homeless working together to empower those who find themselves homeless via
this Directory."

Councillor Garry Coutts, Chairman of The Highland Council's Housing and Social Work Committee said the Council had agreed a Joint Homelessness Strategy and Action Plan to prevent and alleviate homelessness.   He said: "Work to reduce homelessness and improve services for those who find themselves homeless are two of our key priorities and we need the help of  anyone who has contact with people who are or may be at risk of being homeless to help us do this. Tackling homelessness is not just about providing housing although this is crucial. We need to make sure that people can access advice,
practical support and other services so that they are given the best possible chance of solving their problems and keeping their homes once they are housed.

So that we can help develop these support services throughout Highland, we must understand what problems homeless people are facing, what their needs are and what services they require to help them. This survey is the key to usimproving our knowledge and understanding and so we urge agencies and individuals to take part and complete the form."

Dr Roger Gibbins, Chief Executive of Highland NHS Board, said: NHS Highland are committed, together with our partners, to tackling the problem of homelessness. We recognise the huge impact this can have on the health and well being of individuals and are seeking support from all those receiving the survey to help us obtain a clearer picture of the services that currently exist and improvements that require to be made. This information will help us to pull together our Health and Homelessness Action Plan and to expand our knowledge base in tackling this important issue.

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