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We must make Housing First the default option for homeless people with complex needs

Housing First pilots are being trialled around the UK | PA Images

4 min read

This housing model is the cornerstone of successful homelessness strategies worldwide. It must be properly funded and rolled out across the UK

Homelessness is complicated. Every case is unique. Therefore, the solution cannot be a simple one. Instead, support is needed to prevent homelessness in the first place; to stop the cycle of sofa surfing and rough sleeping, and to ensure that when people with high needs are housed, that housing setup can work for them on a permanent basis.

Housing First is one such solution – complex, yes; expensive too. However, this evidence-based approach has successfully supported homeless people with high needs and histories of entrenched or repeat homelessness to live in their own homes.

As the name suggests, it provides housing ‘first’, as a matter of right, rather than ‘last’ or as a reward – it is not only successful in ending the cycle of homelessness, but it is also, I believe, a moral and humane approach to tackling homelessness.

The long-term outcomes may reduce the overall cost of its individual users on the state

Set up in 2016, the methodology has been widely adopted across the US, is central to the national homelessness strategies in Canada, Denmark, Finland and France, and is growing in popularity in countries including Italy, Sweden, Spain and – I’m thrilled to say – increasingly in the UK too.

Housing First pilots are currently operating in Newcastle, London, the Midlands, Greater Manchester, on the South Coast and in Wales and Scotland with great success, providing a stable, independent home and intensive personalised support for homeless people with multiple and complex needs.

Currently, there are no conditions around ‘housing readiness’ before providing someone with a home; rather, secure housing is viewed as a stable platform from which other issues can be addressed.

Unlike other approaches, people are not required to accept support or engage with treatment such as drug and alcohol services, instead being able to receive dedicated support as they settle into stable housing, easing the journey out of dependency.

This is a holistic, open-ended methodology, and the support provided has been shown to improve outcomes across a range of health and social care needs, as well as reducing anti-social and criminal behaviour and decreasing ineffective service use.

This means that while Housing First may be expensive, the long-term outcomes may reduce the overall cost of its individual users on the state. The policy is a win-win in that regard. As a result, some providers have been able to secure funding from statutory sources such as Clinical Commissioning Groups, Police and Crime Commissioners, and Public Health – an approach I would like to see utilised more.

Although the current number of people supported by Housing First is low, the supply is not meeting demand, even where these services already exist. Strict local rules on who can be given social housing, and concerns around anti-social behaviour, both limit available properties in the sector, harming the chances of ending those same behaviours.

Currently, Housing First projects are mainly funded through housing-related support and local authority local grants. However, the housing-related support funding has been reduced since the removal of the Supporting People ringfence and ongoing reductions to local authority grants.

If the government wants to achieve its aim of ending rough sleeping by 2024, I believe the roll out for Housing First across the UK and its proper funding could be a key part of that success.

While there has clearly been a great deal of success in the Housing First pilots, much more work needs to be done. It is my hope that once the results of the Housing First pilots have been presented, further schemes will be established and we can firmly continue the important work of ending homelessness once and for all.


Bob Blackman is Conservative MP for Harrow East and co-chair of the APPG for Ending Homelessness

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