Structures, Skills and Working Practices
44. A prevention approach may require attitudinal and cultural change within an organisation. Moving from a responsive rationing of services to a more pro-active, "can do" type of service culture calls for strong and effective leadership, political and community support and organisational change. Local authorities are best placed as the lead partners in local communities to encourage, facilitate and enable the necessary change to take place. As part of that process, local authorities may wish to develop appropriate and proportionate information sharing protocols with a range of partners to ensure the free flow of relevant information sometimes necessary to prevent homelessness.
Statutory agencies across Lanarkshire have jointly agreed a Data Sharing Partnership Protocol, which includes North and South Lanarkshire Councils, NHS Lanarkshire, the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration, North Lanarkshire Community Health Partnership and the South Lanarkshire Community Health Partnership. The agencies have developed detailed guidance for staff and service users outlining the data that can be shared and the circumstances for doing so.
45. Evidence gathered through analysis of homelessness Local Outcome Agreements suggests that there is growing recognition of the need to introduce related new skills to the homelessness workforce. As a consequence, some specific posts have been created to focus on prevention work, either within councils or through out-sourcing of prevention services. However, the organisational structure currently delivering homelessness services may require further re-design and realignment to meet the new requirements of a prevention ethos. This is particularly relevant as we shift the focus of prevention activity, which is still largely "project" based in design, to a new focus and acceptance that prevention work and tenancy sustainment should be viewed as mainstream activities within housing and social care organisations. As a first step in this process it may be useful to consider guidance on developing effective partnerships.
The City of Edinburgh Council and Lothian NHS Board have a joint Health and Homelessness Strategy for 2008 - 2012, developed by a range of partner agencies and service users. This is reflected in the detailed action plan to prevent homelessness, which has a number of NHS specific actions included. The action plan will be reviewed on an annual basis.
46. In order to ensure that everyone understands what the service aims and objectives are, and how they are intended to be achieved, local authorities will want to update and further develop homelessness and housing services policies and operational procedures. A degree of re-training is likely to be required to develop capacity and knowledge within the organisation and an element of team building in this context will also be helpful. This will be particularly relevant where operational staff teams are expected to develop new skills and knowledge, e.g. negotiating skills, improved knowledge and understanding of the private rented sector, mortgage rights and domestic abuse issues etc. Moreover, by developing staff teams in this way, everyone is more likely to understand their role in shaping and taking forward the local Single Outcome Agreement aims.
47. Elsewhere in local authorities, for example within their housing departments and within RSLs, an increased focus on tenancy sustainment is likely to lead to a requirement for specific prevention training targeted towards staff teams dealing with allocations, rent arrears recovery, estate management and housing benefit administration. Within stock transfer authorities, the department with responsibility for residual housing functions will need to maintain an interest in homelessness prevention performance amongst RSLs as an aspect of LHS implementation.
48. Joint training initiatives with other relevant departments and agencies, e.g. addictions and mental health teams, financial inclusion teams and social workers etc., has been shown to provide the most effective means of developing awareness, knowledge and understanding of homelessness issues. The potential for building capacity and fostering a collaborative approach is likely to be greater where operational staff are assisted to understand each other's roles and objectives. Assistance to understand and diagnose homelessness risk factors will enable staff in other departments and agencies to identify their respective roles in tackling the issue.
49. As well as contributing to the overall aims of the organisation any re-training will bring additional benefits in the form of the improved job satisfaction and motivation derived from providing more positive outcomes. Preventing homelessness is beneficial, cost effective and in the long run provides sustainable solutions. The Chartered Institute of Housing and Shelter are two organisations currently developing homelessness prevention training programmes in Scotland. Alongside the benefits of providing staff with the national perspective, local authorities would reap additional benefits by developing tailored programmes to fit with local issues and priorities.