The seminar series entitled ‘An international and intersectional dialogue on how to reduce harm and promote wellbeing amongst people who have housing, health and substance use challenges’ started on the 27th of November in the Scottish Universities Insight Institute premises in Glasgow. For any member of an organising committee, there is always a certain degree of nervousness on the first day of an event. However, this was one occasion where the atmosphere was relaxed and conducive to interesting conversations from the very beginning.
The day started with round table discussions involving an activity: prior to the event, participants had been asked to choose a photograph representing the reasons for which they are committed to addressing homelessness in Scotland. Discussing the quite varied, and some very creative, choices gave everyone the chance to introduce themselves in a different, perhaps more meaningful way.
Presentations started with Professor Nicholas Pleace from the University of York, who discussed key lessons from the Housing First approach to homelessness, paying particular attention to its relevance in a Scottish context. John Budd from the Edinburgh Access Practice continued the day by providing a snapshot of the reality of doing frontline work with people facing multiple disadvantage. He also discussed the needs of, and challenges faced by, this client group. The day continued with a powerful performance by Phoenix Futures’ drama group, drawing on their own lived experiences of substance use and homelessness. Finally, Jason Wallace from Scottish Drugs Forum and Louise Aitken from Turning Point Scotland discussed the key findings from the recent ‘older problem drug users in Scotland’ study. They focused on stigma, treatment and retention, advocacy and adverse childhood experiences.
The day concluded with group discussions on the ‘next steps’ for policy and practice but also for the event series itself. Key messages highlighted the importance of and need for person-centred, integrated approaches; additional funding which is not condition-driven; and practice and policy that is based on the notions of care and support. Delegates spoke of moving forward in ways that would end the ‘War on (people who use) drugs’ and the stigmatisation and labelling faced by those who use substances. The need for services which adopt compassion-based approaches rather than punitive responses was also put forth. To those of us working in the field, these are not new messages. However, they remain highly relevant and their importance cannot, and should not, be understated. Thinking back on the day, what strikes me is something that again is not new but remains important: the value of open and constructive dialogue, and of the opportunity to listen to people from different disciplines, backgrounds and roles in the field. In terms of what I would like to see in the future, I will borrow from one delegate, who called for reform based on the day’s discussions…and on a more modest note, more coffee for the next event!
Maria Fotopoulou, University of Stirling