Project aims to tackle Scotland’s Covid-19 homeless surge


14th September 2020

Lessons learned from the streets of Brazil could help tackle a surge in Scottish youth homelessness caused by Covid-19, according to a University of Dundee expert.

Dr Andrea Rodriguez, from the University’s School of Dentistry, says that improving access to support services, adopting participatory approaches, and integrating healthcare provision could significantly improve the quality of life of young people affected by homelessness.

The number of young people living homeless is expected to rise in light of the pandemic due to an increase in domestic tensions and a lack of employment opportunities. However, an eight-month knowledge exchange project led by Dr Rodriguez has identified ways of improving how the next generation of dental, health and social care professionals interact with those without a permanent address.

Funded by the Scottish Universities Insight Institute, the project recommends following an approach adopted in the metropolises of Rio de Janeiro and Fortaleza, where support agencies are becoming increasingly integrated, to keep young people experiencing homelessness engaged with services.

“One third of homelessness applications in Scotland come from young people aged 16 to 25 years old,” said Dr Rodriguez.

“Covid-19 is likely to see an increase in this, according to partners we have worked with. This could be due to an intensification of conflicts with family members or increased levels of domestic violence. For those young people living in supported accommodation, social isolation during lockdown may have increased anxiety levels or alcohol intake, while job opportunities have also become scarce, increasing chances of eviction for those in informal rental agreements.

“This is a complex social problem that we all need to address. Scotland has one of the best homelessness legislations in Europe and Brazil has an extraordinary methodology based in popular education to address these issues. Both countries have practitioners and organisations strongly committed to tackling homelessness and we both have a lot to learn from each other.

“While the scenario in Brazil may be more critical, the way agencies work together there could benefit those experiencing homelessness in Scotland.”

Completed last year, the knowledge exchange programme centred on three workshop events and seven youth consultations in Dundee and Glasgow. These involved 45 national and international services, and more than 120 delegates, including 44 young people. The project brought together experts from across the University and academic and non-academic partners in Scotland, England, Wales, Norway and South America.

Partners from Brazil and Scotland travelled between the two countries to witness the work undertaken to help and listen to young people affected by homelessness. The international exchanges helped establish a detailed framework that has been developed by Dr Rodriguez and Professor Ruth Freeman, which is hoped will help to inform government policy and practice in tackling homelessness in Scotland and beyond. An accompanying documentary on the project has also been produced in English, Portuguese and Spanish.

The recommendations of the knowledge exchange have been welcomed A Way Home Scotland, a national coalition of individuals, organisations and authorities aimed at ending youth homelessness.

Sabrina Galella from the Edinburgh-based organisation said, “The Coronavirus crisis has disproportionately impacted under 25’s.

“Covid-19 has in fact exacerbated the common drivers of youth homelessness. During lockdown many young people were trapped in abusive households, were insecurely employed and their informal housing arrangements broke down. Youth homelessness is not a new phenomenon, nonetheless this crisis will put even more young people at risk.”

Dr Rodriguez now hopes to establish a follow up project to co-design knowledge exchange training for services and practitioners interested in ending youth homelessness.

University of Dundee

Nobel Prize winning poet and honorary graduate Seamus Heaney has described the University of Dundee as ‘having its head in the clouds and its feet firmly on the ground.’ The ability to be both aspirational and down-to earth and to blend ground-breaking intellectual achievement with practical applications, has given the University its distinctive character.

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