Homelessness and UofG

Published: 14 May 2021

Initiative proposed to help tackle homelessness in the community

A proposed initiative could engage staff and students from across the University tackle to issue of homelessness in the community. If you would like to comment or express an interest, please email homelessness@glasgow.ac.uk.

The new University of Glasgow strategy – World Changers Together – places a strong emphasis on values. But what does this mean in practice? Most members of our community will want to see those values expressed in the way we operate – how we advance equality and fairness and improve the experience of all our staff and students. At the same time, they will rightly expect the University to make a positive difference in our wider society, especially in west-central Scotland.

The University’s contribution to environmental sustainability will be one aspect of that agenda. We are already working with the City Council and other partners in the Sustainable Glasgow initiative – the range of activity is expanding week by week. Secondly, the University is set to be a key player in the development of the Glasgow Riverside Innovation District – an ambitious initiative to transform a de-industrialised and neglected part of the city into a vibrant centre of research, enterprise and social activity.

In addition, as part of our overall civic strategy, the University’s senior management group has agreed in principle to support a wider programme focused on the major social issue of homelessness. The idea is to mobilise the resources of the University in the widest sense to make a positive impact in this area. We would like to draw on our academic expertise, our strong links with the City Council and other stakeholders, the energy of members of our community and our physical and financial resources over an extended period. There will be opportunities for staff and students to become involved in the initiative at various levels, and to help shape what will be a multi-faceted approach to a complex and deep-rooted problem.

What do we mean when we talk about homelessness? The initial focus tends to be on rough sleeping or street homelessness. But this is only a small part of the homelessness eco-system. Scotland also has rising numbers of families and individuals in temporary accommodation awaiting more settled housing. Add to that, people who are ‘hidden homeless’ – enduring overcrowded living conditions, staying with parents or other households, or simply sofa-surfing – and the numbers start to grow rapidly. Finally, there are those slightly upstream who are at risk of becoming homeless – this has been exacerbated by the pandemic through domestic abuse and relationship breakdown, job loss, and worsening complex needs.

So, it may be useful to think of the homelessness question as an iceberg where only the street homeless are visible. But what are the fundamental causes of homelessness? The Centre for Homelessness Impact identifies a number of key drivers:

  • Poverty
  • Lack of truly affordable housing
  • High rents
  • Cuts or changes to benefits, especially in relation to help with housing costs
  • Lack of access to the right services at the right time.

Homeless people have a range of needs stretching from straightforward accommodation through to a spectrum of support requirements. People presenting as homeless, for instance, may be recently released from custodial sentences, or other forms of institutional living, they may have health or substance issues, they may be under immigration control, such as asylum seekers, with no recourse to public funds. One size definitely does not fit all in addressing these needs.

The new long-term housing strategy for Scotland – Housing to 2040 – seeks to end homelessness by 2040 though the development of these and further policies, such that any experience of homelessness will be ‘rare, brief and non-recurring’. While this may seem ambitious, we see evidence of highly effective homelessness policies working in countries like Finland. Of course, these successes require system-level co-ordination and sustained change relating to the wider housing system, social housing availability, social security and the other important services, effective policy implementation and enforcement, as well as a growing economy creating jobs and opportunity.

Glasgow retains a legacy of multiple deprivation in parts of the city and while housing is relatively affordable in an urban Scottish context, there are large numbers caught in different parts of the homelessness web. There are approximately 600 people still living in city centre hotels, many of whom are without recourse to public funds and who may have various combinations of complex needs. A further challenge is that Glasgow struggles to move people on from temporary accommodation into settled usually social housing. While a lot of work is clearly going on to resolve this, challenges remain. We believe the University has the capability to make a significant and sustained contribution to addressing these issues.

In developing our thinking, we are committed to adding value and not duplicating or getting in the way of the professionals. This means that before embarking on a programme of activities, we need to do due diligence, think interventions through and talk to the experts. At all stages, we need to draw on our comparative advantage – our intellectual capital in teaching and research, also our physical assets and the potential for well targeted volunteering among staff and students.

We have given some initial thought to possible areas of activity. These include:

  • Setting up volunteering routes with well-established bodies who know what they need and would filter volunteers to impactful, value-adding roles.
  • Providing CPD training for schoolteachers, for example in Modern Studies to develop curriculum modules on the meaning and nature and responses to homelessness.
  • Offering research and intelligence to organisations which provide homelessness services work for the city.
  • Developing research on upstream causes of homelessness and in particular link these to specifically Glasgow issues of deprivation, economic inactivity, bad health and poor housing.
  • Providing training and up-skilling opportunities on poverty, destitution and homelessness for social workers, GPs and other professionals.
  • Exploring ways to utilise our physical infrastructure and resources to help address the needs of people at risk of homelessness.
  • Considering links between this proposed initiative and other initiatives such as work to support refugees and the Glasgow Riverside project.

For those who would like to contribute to this initiative, there should be a variety of opportunities. In the first instance, we plan to set up an informal working group drawing on expertise from across the Colleges and professional services. Thereafter, we will seek to engage with a wider group of staff, perhaps via an open-invitation workshop, and with students via the SRC. In the meantime, we will talk further with external agencies who may become our partners as we move forward.

We do hope you agree that homelessness is a suitable area for the University to address and that you will wish to be part of the project as it develops. If this is of interest, we look forward to discussing it with you further in due course.

Professor Kenneth Gibb
Director, ESRC UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence

David Duncan
Chief Operating Officer and University Secretary

First published: 14 May 2021