Housing first was once thought of as a radical rethinking of how homelessness could be tackled – but over the years it has become an increasingly important element to achieving the aim of ending rough sleeping for good.
One person who has witnessed the scheme’s successes – and a few challenges – over the years is Stephen Brett, Housing First Service Manager in Brighton. Here he shares his thoughts on the scheme.
A Pilot Scheme and Beyond
I have worked in homelessness services in Brighton for 20 years. In 2014 I was part of a conversation on how we could adopt different approaches to ending rough sleeping.
Through this discussion we uncovered aspects of the Housing First model and were afforded the opportunity to run a pilot Housing First scheme.
It represented an exciting moment in service delivery, a chance to try something genuinely different for people who had exhausted many of the pre-existing resources the city had to offer.
Housing First is a different model because it provides housing ‘first’, on the basis of right, rather than at the end of a process as a reward.
And years later the bedrock of the model remains as exciting today as it was in those early stages as we have learned, adapted and grown along the way.
Challenges and Successes
I think it’s important to accept that Housing First is not a panacea, but rather as for many people experiencing multiple complex needs offered the prospect of attaining a way out from the risks, rigours and traps of enduring rough sleeping.
From a burgeoning concept, the approach has now become a valid and established approach to ending rough sleeping. And our experience of delivering Housing First in the intervening years has demonstrated this based upon the achievements of the people that we support through this model. It would however be misleading to say that our growth has been without challenges.
Housing First workers will work assertively to engage our service users, build lasting supportive relationships, work in a person centred and recovery focused way and manage and respond to any risks. The delivery of the support is therefore both rewarding and challenging. The Housing First model very deliberately attempts to re-frame the typical criteria applied to people sleeping rough accessing self-contained accommodation.
And part of the journey has, therefore, involved highlighting and indeed contributing to the growing evidence base around efficacy and challenging scepticism.
We are trying to turn well established processes on their head, we accept that there is an inherent risk within this and related wariness. As people engage in support and maintain their tenancy we aim to break the cycle of rough sleeping so that there is opportunity to address the factors that have contributed to people ending up on the streets.
Our longer-term aim is for people to achieve long lasting recovery.
In Brighton, where I have worked for St Mungo’s since 2016, we have received extra funding from NSAP (Next Steps Accommodation Fund) to offer an additional 20 places – growing from 40 to 60 offers of Housing First.
The accommodation is dispersed across the city, consciously so and the bedrock of Housing First remains ‘housing as a human right’. We believe that for some people living within a congregated setting hinders their chances of moving away from homelessness.
We also acknowledge that there are challenges inherent within this offer, and work hard with people to reduce the risk of isolation, maintain regular and consistent contact, coordinate support and provide motivation and encouragement to engage in their recovery goals thereafter, and indeed their new community.
We make the offer of stable accommodation alongside intensive long-term support, but don’t act as landlords. If people choose not to engage with the support or indeed get to a place whereby the support we offer is no longer required they can still occupy their home.
That said, the model works best when people engage with intensive support and the adoption of assertive engagement is crucial to this relationship.
There has been many compelling stories of success:
- We have had high rates of tenancy retention and continue to contribute to ending rough sleeping in the city
- We have seen positive engagements with health care support such as completion of treatments for hepatitis and cancer and more generally a reduction in missed appointments
- We have seen people move away from a cycle of offending
- We have seen a reduction is substance misuse
- We have seen abstinence based recovery
- We have seen people parenting their children
- We have worked with people on longer term aspirations such as accessing training and employment
- We have seen people reconnecting with family after many years of disconnect
- We have seen people connecting with the community they live in
Hopes for the future of Housing First
Key to what we are attempting is to offer something of quality to someone experiencing multiple disadvantage that they in turn actually want to accept – I hope that this facet of the Housing First model becomes more prevalent in our approaches to ending rough sleeping as we move forward.
Given the challenges presented to us all during the pandemic, one of the clear silver linings has been the opportunities created to reduce street homelessness and the incredible work undertaken to implement such opportunity.
My desire is to see a continuum of this trajectory by affording people lasting, well considered, move on options alongside person-centred, robust support.
St Mungo’s Housing First
St Mungo’s is one of the largest providers of Housing First services in England, supporting more than 282 clients and currently delivers Housing First to 14% of places available.
We have Housing First services in Bournemouth, Brent, Brighton, Camden, Ealing, Hackney and City of London, Hammersmith and Fulham, Haringey, Reading, Sutton, Tower Hamlets and Westminster. Camden and Brighton are our largest schemes, supporting 72 and 60 clients respectively, while our Reading and Sutton services each support five clients.
As an experienced Housing First provider we have been at the forefront of designing, implementing and running Housing First services in the UK for several years.
For more information about St Mungo’s Housing First schemes click here.