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Off the streets

Housing First has all but eradicated rough sleeping in Finland. Nick Johnstone looks at how it is catching on in the UK

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CATHY AT 50 200px

A homeless person can become a social landlord’s dream tenant. This is the argument made by providers of Housing First, a radical method of supporting people with high needs and histories of entrenched homelessness to live in their own homes.

Last week, as part of our Cathy at 50 campaign, Inside Housing reported from Finland, where Housing First has reduced homelessness to 7,000 from 18,000 over the past 30 years. This week we’re closer to home, looking at how the model is already up and running successfully – albeit under the radar – in areas of the UK.

Simple model

Many small, local homelessness charities have been operating versions of the Scandinavian model for three years, but in January this year national charity Homeless Link took things a step further. It has set up Housing First England, with funding from Comic Relief and charitable foundation Lankelly Chase, to co-ordinate 21 Housing First providers and help create a “national movement”.

The model they operate sounds almost too obvious – find a home for someone who is homeless. By simply providing a home without making homeless people jump through hurdles, the scheme is enjoying success rates – known as “sustainment rates” – averaging 70-90% in the UK. According to Paul Pandolfo, Housing First programme manager at Shelter, this compares with 40% under traditional methods.

“They actually make better tenants than someone living in chaos and who doesn’t have that support.”

Jo Prestidge, project manager, Housing First England

The model separates out housing and support, and flexible support is provided to tenants for as long as it is needed. The Cathy at 50 campaign is calling on councils to commission schemes and to explore Housing First as a default option for long-term rough sleepers, and for housing associations to identify additional stock for schemes.

With the first pilots launched in 2013, Housing First providers are now helping more than 180 clients sustain housing for the longer term, offering an answer for more complex cases where other solutions simply haven’t worked.

But this work could be scaled up. The bulk of Housing First providers work with private landlords, but registered providers are increasingly being encouraged to give their stock over to the cause. “One of our problems is lack of access to housing associations; we will be engaging with the social housing sector over the next year,” says Jo Prestidge, project manager at Housing First England.

“Housing associations don’t normally give up accommodation to this group, but we believe they should… Housing First supports people to ensure the rent is paid and that they limit their anti-social behaviour; they actually make better tenants than someone living in chaos and who doesn’t have that support.”

Bench Outreach in Lewisham, which has housed 20 people since 2014, and Changing Lives in Newcastle, which has around 40 clients, are both working with a growing number of social housing providers to get people their own places. They each have sustainment rates of 90%.

Trevor Hayward, project manager at Bench, says his organisation has a guarantee from the local authority to provide 15 homes a year, and works with landlords such as Lewisham Homes and L&Q.

“We work with the people most in need to become good tenants – people with complex needs who would have to get through all sorts of hoops to be in supported accommodation.”

Remarkable successes

Mr Hayward is hopeful that, with more people in Lewisham recorded as homeless in the first half of this year than in the whole of 2015, Bench can meet its target of helping 60 people by the time its funding elapses in 2018.

Changing Lives, which is one of the earliest schemes to have launched, has the UK’s biggest client base and works mostly with private landlords.

Becky Elton, director of housing at Changing Lives, says Housing First is particularly strong in protecting people from the challenges of communal living, where giving in to peer pressure is habitual. She says one of her biggest challenges is knowing how long a tenant will need support, and the reliance on grants of fixed lengths is a problem for guaranteeing long-term help.

Having only launched in January, Housing First England is making early progress. In Camden and Islington, for SHP’s Fulfilling Lives project, among 11 clients (see box: Graham’s story), the sustainment rate is currently 100%. The hope now is that these remarkable success stories can be sustained well into the future.

Graham’s story

Graham (not his real name) has been living in his private rented sector flat in Camden for nearly a year, after being referred to Fulfilling Lives in August 2015.

He has a long history of street homelessness and predominantly violent offences, and is a heavy drinker with severe depression and the tendency to self-harm.

Graham did not want to go into a hostel environment as he found it challenging to be around people with similar issues. Even if he had been willing to go into a supported hostel, it is unlikely he would have been placed due to his previous evictions and high-risk behaviour.

Since Housing First’s intervention, Graham has stayed out of prison for a year – the first time in four years he has stayed out of prison for longer than two weeks. It is directly related to housing: if he was street homeless he would offend so he could go back to prison.

He has built a relationship with his children; previously he felt unable to offer them anything because of his chaotic lifestyle.

Graham is receiving support from his local mental health service. His mental health has improved and he is not self-harming as much as he used to.


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