- puts you at greater risk of homelessness;
- makes the transition out of homelessness even more difficult than it already is;
- often leads to failure to sustain a new tenancy; and
- leads to repeat episodes of homelessness – each more damaging than the last.
There is a substantial body of research supporting this premise and identifying the cost to the individual and to the public purse.
The Scottish Social Networks Forum was created in response to recommendations in the Homelessness Task Force Final Report to raise awareness of the need for positive social networks and to support the development and integration of befriending, mentoring and mediation services for people affected by homelessness or at risk of homelessness. It also aims to assist both local authorities and homelessness projects that are required to develop assessments and provision to support social networks. The correlation between poor social networks and homelessness is direct, but positive social networks are the foundation for strong, supportive, sustainable communities and a route to preventing not only homelessness, but also isolation and exclusion generally. This has been recognised by Malcolm Chisholm MSP Minister for Communities and indeed was reflected in his Ministerial Statement on Abolition of Priority Need by 2012.
The isolation, loneliness and vulnerability experienced by individuals with weak social networks is damaging to their health and well being. The lack of strong, positive social networks is particularly damaging to those already socially excluded from society through unemployment, disability, race, experience of being looked after in local authority care, veterans or other institution leavers but can have an adverse affect on any of us. All these factors in turn impact on homelessness.
The Rock Trust was established in 1991 and supports young people in Edinburgh and West Lothian and provides training and development support for other organisations across Scotland and in Europe. The Rock Trust aims to tackle youth homelessness by providing personal and practical support to young homeless people, enabling them to concentrate upon the issues which are excluding them from stability, assisting them to develop the self-confidence and skills they need to live independently. Because of the success of The Rock Trust’s innovative Social Networks project and their track record of successful partnership working they are funded by Communities Scotland to develop the Scottish Social Networks Forum.
Mediation, Befriending and Mentoring - none of these are new ideas. For example:
- family mediation is well developed and should be available across Scotland
- befriending of old people isolated in the community or of children at risk is not new and
- all the HR gurus have been promoting mentoring for employee development for years.
Some of the clients of all these services will be homeless or at risk of becoming homeless but it is only recently that these services have been focused on helping homeless people develop strong positive social networks.
The range of mediation services available in Scotland is growing – for families, communities, pupils, in youth justice and now a few pilots in homelessness. The majority of homeless people or potentially homeless people want to retain or re-establish contact with friends and particularly with family but often feel that things have been said and done which are a barrier to this. Sometimes raising the individual’s confidence may enable them to address the issues themselves, sometimes another family member can act as a go between but often if common ground is to be re-established outside independent mediation is required.
The success of befriending services in reducing social isolation and encouraging social integration and involvement has been demonstrated and reported in a range of reviews. Again targeting it at homeless people and using it to develop their social networks is relatively new. Evaluation is not easy but there is demand from the target group who say that it makes a significant difference to their lives. The volunteers are valued by the clients and both volunteers and clients report satisfaction. Projects can demonstrate progress in developing social networks and in sustaining tenancies.
Mentoring is seen as a goal focused activity and has been used quite frequently in business. Perhaps not surprisingly then the model has been most successful in relation to supporting socially excluded groups, including homeless people, into education, training and employment. Offering extra support in both securing the opportunity and in continuing, successful participation. As the work place, college etc. are the clubs we all use to build our social contacts, success in these areas, especially when supported by a mentor, builds social networks.
How do these three similar but very different activities “fit together”?