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From Outreach to Impact: Transforming Communities in Edinburgh

At Places for People, we created £165m of social value this past year, supporting projects in and around our Communities across the country. Among these is a standout initiative: The Assertive Outreach Programme.

A lifeline project that provides outreach support to people in Edinburgh who are identified as being at risk of drug-related harm. By proactively identifying individuals, the programme offers critical support and treatment provision to those most in need.

The programme, which was originally founded in 2019, involves an integrated collaboration of stakeholders including Police Scotland (Edinburgh Division), NHS Lothian, the Edinburgh Alcohol and Drugs Partnership (EADP), City of Edinburgh Council, Health and Social Care Partnership, and the third sector including Turning Point Scotland, and Change, Grow, Live.

Scotland, in 2021, witnessed a sobering total of 1,330 drug-related deaths, marking the second highest annual figure on record. The need for action is clear, and the introduction of the Assertive Outreach Programme in Edinburgh for our Customers is a much needed step in the right direction.

In Edinburgh alone between 1 January, 2023, and 21 August 2023, a devastating 83 suspected drug related deaths were reported to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Services, with 39% of these cases involving social housing tenants.

As a fundamental provider of social housing in this area, serving 1,100 Customers in the North East of Edinburgh and 740 Customers in the South East, many of whom may be facing these struggles, we knew we held a vital role in supporting our Customers and the Communities they call home.

The first partnership of its kind

In 2021, a £15,000 allocation from our Community Investment Fund was provided to further develop the Assertive Outreach programme within our Communities in Edinburgh. Along with match funding from the Edinburgh Alcohol and Drugs Partnership (EADP), we were able to introduce a dedicated assertive outreach worker, provided by Turning Point Scotland. This unique role was the first of its kind, bridging the gap between housing associations and individuals seeking assistance with drug issues, and strengthening the support avenues available.  

At its core, this role is about reaching individuals with drug issues who historically may have not been able to engage with mainstream services due to the complexity of their challenges. As it evolved, it became apparent that these individuals would have often engaged with numerous services before securing housing, emphasising the importance of this link, as the intervention of the outreach worker is often the first prompt for individuals to engage once again with support services. The role also facilitates reconnection with our housing officers, helping them address issues that may have jeopardised their tenancy.

Often, the connection between our housing officers and tenants may not be as robust as it could be due to their circumstances, potentially leading to unresolved tenancy issues or instances of anti-social behaviour, sometimes resulting in a second or third warning, putting their tenancy at risk.

As the UK’s leading Social Enterprise who is committed to playing our part in eradicating homelessness, the prospect of removing someone from their tenancy and exposing them to the risk of homelessness is a scenario we are determined to avoid. So, the addition of this relationship has been a lifeline for many Customers that find themselves in this situation. The role and partnership have served as a tool for repairing relationships and is helping both parties gain an understanding of what is going on. Previously, we may have encountered multiple complaints from neighbours, yet without an understanding of the Customers’ situation and the required support, which is not often disclosed to a housing officer, addressing these concerns was extremely challenging.

Encouraging recovery

Since introducing the initial outreach worker in the North East of Edinburgh, we have supported 25 Customers through their ongoing journey. From referring Customers with extremely complex issues to the appropriate services to assisting with prescriptions, or simply being there for a chat when it’s needed, the assertive outreach programme is a key staple in supporting our Customers to sustain their tenancies and improve their quality of life. It has also helped us strengthen the Community by reducing anti-social behaviour and substance abuse in the area.

Knowing first-hand the positive impact that the North East outreach worker has had on our Customers and the Community, we expanded the support further in 2023 by funding an additional assertive outreach worker through a partnership with Change, Grow Live, which was again match-funded by the EADP. At the time of recruiting for the role, we had between 40-45 high risk cases in the South East and had devastatingly experienced another drug related death in one of our tenancies in the area. With over 740 properties in the South East of Edinburgh, this expansion responds to a growing need for targeted assistance with drug and alcohol challenges.

Real life impact

A poignant story speaks volumes about the impact the programme can have. We encountered a Customer who was facing extremely difficult challenges. They didn’t have a reliable way to communicate due to either losing their phone, having it stolen, or selling it for other means on multiple occasions. After meeting him we could understand that he was on the edge and required intervention which is exactly what our assertive outreach worker provided.

Plans were put in place to improve his quality of life, including repairs made to his property that we were not made aware of initially, energy advice provided to connect his gas supply, and a new phone was sourced for him, which he still has now. The Customer was also referred to Change, Grow, Live for support with his diazepam addiction. We are now happy to report that the Customer has found stability, is not using any illicit street drugs, and continues to engage and make appointments with his support network. His transformation is clear, he is more focused, communicates better, and is on top of managing his tenancy with our support.   

This kind of experience is exactly why the assertive outreach programme is so important. It is not just about solving immediate problems; it’s about creating a path to a better future for our Customers and our Communities as a result.

Continuing our Support

Since the addition of the second outreach worker in November 2022, we have extended our support to an additional 20 individual in the South East of Edinburgh. We are dedicated to providing vital support to these who need it most.  

If you know someone who could benefit from the Assertive Outreach Programme within the North East or South East of Edinburgh, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at Together with our partners, we can make a meaningful impact in the lives of our Customers and Communities.