Housing First is only part of the solution to ending homelessness, according to new research

“Housing First is highly effective in ending homelessness among people with high and complex needs, but it does not constitute a solution to single homelessness, or rough sleeping, in itself” according to a new report by the University of York, commissioned by St Mungo’s, published today.

The report, Using Housing First in Integrated Homelessness Strategies: a review of the evidence is by Professor Nicholas Pleace, of the Centre for Housing Policy at the University of York.

He finds that “international evidence shows that Housing First services need to be a part of an integrated homelessness strategy to be truly effective.”

The report was commissioned by homelessness charity and housing association St Mungo’s, one of the UK’s largest provider of Housing First services, with projects in nine locations supporting more than 100 people in their own homes. In total, on any one night St Mungo’s provides housing and support to 2,700 people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, as well as support to people trying to sustain tenancies, and people sleeping rough.

Other key findings were that:

  • The international evidence shows that Housing First services must be a part of an integrated homelessness strategy to be effective, successful examples of this approach can be found in Denmark, Finland and Norway
  • Housing First services perform very well when compared to inflexible, abstinence-based services that attempt to end homelessness by making someone ‘housing ready’ before they move into their own home. However, many UK services tend to follow a more flexible model, emphasising service user choice and working within a harm reduction framework.
  • The evidence base for Housing First requires careful interpretation. All Housing First services share a common philosophy and core principles, but operational differences can be considerable, with services ranging from intensive, high cost, multidisciplinary models, through to models of Housing First that employ forms of intensive case management with lower operating costs. Success in ending homelessness is very considerable, but while there is a shared philosophy, the operational practices of Housing First in the UK is quite different from Canada or France, as UK Housing First services have much lower operating costs and do not deliver support in the same way.

Howard Sinclair, Chief Executive of St Mungo’s, said: “Housing First absolutely needs to be part of an integrated national homelessness strategy, and this report clearly shows that.

“However, the international evidence comparing Housing First against Treatment As Usual (TAU) must be treated with caution when considering the UK context where harm reduction, service user choice and psychologically informed environments are already common approaches within existing homelessness services.

“While there is a lack of consistent, comparable evidence of what UK hostels achieve and this is something the sector must better address, we do know that a range of housing and support options are needed for people who themselves face a range of complicated personal issues in terms of finding and sustaining a home.”