Good Intentions aren’t always enough.

By Grant Campbell, Head of Partnerships & Consulting at Homeless Network Scotland.

The growing pressure of the ‘permacrisis’ mobilised a wide range of voluntary action, in city centres and communities across the country to help people most affected. Understandably, there are often no benchmarks, national strategies or guidelines on delivering these compassionate responses. There is often simply a very human, and reassuring response, which is ‘what can I do?’ However sometimes our very best of intentions can actually do harm. It’s a delicate conversation to critique what is often a local community and voluntary reaction to systemic challenges.

My morning waking up routine, for more years than I can remember, has been to switch on the telly and watch Breakfast news. While probably not as productive as yoga or a morning run, it’s my routine. I’ve always felt that at the start of each day I wanted to be sighted on the news and current affairs, particularly since it can have a profound impact on the work that I do.

However, over the last couple of months something changed in my routine. I felt a genuine sense of hopelessness watching the news. Story after story leaving me more frustrated and disheartened about society. From war in Europe to fuel poverty, food insecurity, broken economy, unions striking, all part of our ‘cost of living crisis.’

To keep my sanity, I’ve switched to Channel 4 in the morning where they have reruns of old sit coms. They feel a bit dated and at times it wanders into humour which shouldn’t have been acceptable in the 80’s, but it was. Anyway, it’s my escape!

Most news channels look for that ‘happy’ news story they can share each morning, and particularly over Christmas there is a search for ‘heart-warming’ stories to remind us how good people really are. There’s a focus on charitable work, the impact it has for good and how the viewing public can support it.

Take the example of those that work in and around the issue of homelessness in Scotland. While I’d argue that there is a lot of work to be done and we won’t rest until it’s ended (that’s possible by the way, but a conversation for another blog) the landscape has improved considerably. Rough sleeping figures in Glasgow and Edinburgh significantly down; evidence led work such as ‘Housing First’ becoming the norm; a prevention focus with new prevention duties; and defining what ‘unsuitable’ accommodation is and removing it from the system. We’ve seen the shift away from the need for winter night shelters with mattresses on the floor and a move to emergency welcome centres. If you want a more in-depth read into what’s changed over the last ten years,  here’s a journal from contributors across Scotland.

What was learned over decades is that what works for people who are homeless is what works for everyone. We all want a safe and secure home to live in, we want enough income to live, whether that’s benefits or salary, we want to be able to live, not just survive. We want to be as healthy as we can be, both physically and mentally. Finally, we want positive and supportive relationships around us.

Yet sometimes, a different approach is proposed for people who are homeless – sometimes its delivered, and sometimes it is even supported by politicians, businesses, the general public. However good intentions are not enough when responding to big social challenges like poverty, social isolation and homelessness. And why, without the right knowledge and partnerships, good intentions can even cause harm.

I find hope looking at what’s changed and a focus on what works. I think the context in a cost-of-living crisis can make this all harder – but it also raises the stakes. Let’s focus on what works and what matters.