Scottish homelessness policy in context A strong-legal rights based approach Virtually all homeless households have a legal right to settled accommodation, enforceable through domestic courts. International exemplar; Human Rights Award Legal rights elsewhere: >Usually limited to emergency accommodation (Germany, Sweden, Poland, Hungary, NYC) >Legal rights to settled accommodation in UK and France only
Irish homelessness policy in context Emphasis on individual/family reliance; large, faith-based charitable sector: homelessness not recognised as a state responsibility until the 1980s Pathologies of legal rights: adversarial, legalistic, financially burdensome, anathema to Irish constitution/practice; fear of gridlock between rights ‘resisters’ and ‘essentialists’ ‘Social partnership’ model: problem solving, negotiation and consensus building among key stakeholders and ‘continuous learning’ to ‘ratchet up’ standards Low key, incremental approach: more robust and intended outcomes than legalistic route?
The study ScotlandIreland Phase 1 (late 2010) National key informant interviews Policy makers Voluntary sector leaders Academics 10 13 Phase 2 (2011) Local case studies EdinburghDublin Local Informants interviews Local authority staff Voluntary sector staff 107 Service user interviews Currently/recently homeless single men 1115 Total participants 67 ‘Exemplars’ of national homelessness policy To compare approaches at the sharp end/for least prioritised group Only those in priority need in Scotland
Housing need if somebody was in that situation, a single homeless male, or anyone else… [we] always get people what they need, we never turn people away, we never say sorry we can’t help you... we make absolutely every effort to re-house them would he be capable of independent living? …we wouldn’t give a unit where we felt he wasn’t able to look after himself the [police] check everybody before we put them into standard social housing, and a lot of them because of their past would raise alarm bells … it’s a judgement call on the given manager to decide if you were putting them into a high demand area and the residents are very active the manager has to say ‘no, I can’t take him’ [parts of Dublin] have a disproportionately high level of social housing, so there are times then when the housing manager will say look, you need to pepper-pot it more around A 24 year old man, asked to leave by the friends he’s staying with. He has a history of drug use and mental health issues, has spent time in prison and exhausted friends and family as a source of accommodation.
Legal rights and discretion Legal rights reduce scope for provider discretion in determining who gets access to settled housing Enforce a blunt focus on accessing settled housing and crowd-out other considerations Multiple objectives pursued by providers in Ireland, leading to inertia in homelessness services
Stigma Legal rights make the label of homelessness make more salient Legal rights accord a different status to those experiencing homelessness the homeless label is still a problem… [it] gives you access to something valuable, but it’s not necessarily in your interests’ (LA senior manager, Scotland) people should be able to access what they need… without having to get the tag of being ‘homeless’’ (LA service manager, Scotland) everybody’s entitled to help... there’s help available if you need (Edinburgh service user) everybody has a right to be housed... it’s ridiculous that people are homeless (Edinburgh service user) if they can help, they will… they do what they can, when they can. If they don’t have the time, they’ll tell you, you know? So they’re good (Dublin Service User) I don’t expect people to do this and do that… it’s a kind of a balance, you have to put as much as you can in (Dublin Service User)
Empowerment Legal rights disempower by undermining personal responsibility and autonomy? I’m not sure the way that people are herded into situations through the homeless route actually does empower them at all (National stakeholder, Scotland) the notion of people being the bearers of very defined rights sits alongside the notion that they should have some authorship of their own lives and some authorship of what those rights should mean (National stakeholder, Ireland) Why should there be a legal right for people to be housed? You should work towards it (Service user, Dublin) there’s a risk of taking away any incentive for people to take more responsibility for their own housing situation (National stakeholder, Scotland)
Empowerment Legal rights empower Bolster a sense of entitlement among service users, which is seen as legitimate by providers Foster more assertive dispositions and higher expectations Structural understandings of the causes of homelessness - ‘desert’ not primary concern Homeless men as ‘entitled rights’ holders If there’s a view… that people [service users] are getting a bit more angsty, then fantastic!’ (National stakeholder, voluntary sector, Scotland) I’m just champing at the bit, ready to go (Hostel resident, Edinburgh) every day that goes past is just like a waste, cos I could’ve been doing something more constructive (Hostel resident, Edinburgh)
Empowerment Lack of legal rights disempowers Acceptance, quiescence and lower expectations Grateful/lucky to have received assistance Personal responsibility, narratives of desert/self-reliance Resistance to idea of legal rights Homeless men as ‘grateful supplicants’ this is like excellent… I’m glad to be here…it’s a good place to get breathing space, I can’t knock it really’ (Service user, Dublin) I was told a couple of times to put complaints in… and I wouldn’t. I’m not that type, I don’t know what it is, but I just didn’t feel I was entitled to it (Service user, Dublin) Why should there be a legal right for people to be housed? You should work towards it (Service user, Dublin). It’s easier to empower someone when you can say ‘and this is the law’ as opposed to ‘look, this is what you should do and hopefully you’ll get lucky or you’ll get the service you need (Voluntary sector, Ireland)
Perverse incentives you have to be homeless… to come anywhere near to getting a flat… that’s why people are doing it… and a lot of other people are doing [it] because they… really need the support (Hostel resident, Edinburgh) the numbers of people who I think are abusing the system … I think is relatively small compared to the good that comes out of it (Service provider, Edinburgh) that has been said by some local authorities, that people were deliberately making themselves homeless to jump the queue (Academic, Ireland) [we’re] a victim of our own successes… if … people are seeing that they can get placed in a supported temporary accommodation and at the end of that they have a council apartment… Is that not maybe encouraging, you know? (Service provider, Dublin) … a side effect of responses to homelessness that prioritise housing according to need
Legalism In practice, legal challenges are extremely rare in Scotland Cross sector involvement and buy-in to reforms; emphasis on partnership working Housing options approach and ‘maturation’ of culture of service provision Irish approach partnership and consensus, but… [it’s] absolutely not about the fact [that homeless households have] got a right to go to court… it is embedded (LA manager, Scotland) everyone is… fighting their own corner, for their perspective (Service provider, Dublin) [we need] very robust systems of what is expected from each service… with the goal of achieving consensus we maybe lose out a little bit on that’ (Service provider, Dublin) organisational needs tend to take precedence over the needs of service users (Service provider, Dublin)
Conclusions Legal rights offer the potential to prioritise meeting the housing needs of homeless households over other policy objectives They do so whilst mitigating the stigma of homelessness, casting homeless men as ‘entitled rights holders’ Legal rights ‘empower’, in the sense that they bolster assertive and demanding attitudes and high expectations and support the view that these are legitimate among professionals Perverse incentives are ‘sharper’ in Scotland because the statutory system successfully prioritises according to need Legal rights create clear parameters within which consensual, partnership driven work can take place