Crisis and Homeless Link partner on the Housing First England project
Housing First is the most important recent innovation in tackling homelessness. Effective for an incredible 80 per cent of people, it’s based on an ethos that is simple yet radical; get people quickly into stable homes and from this point any other support needs – such as alcohol or drug dependency, physical and/or mental health – are addressed through coordinated and intensive support.
Whilst Housing First already exists across Great Britain it currently operates at a small scale. It is encouraging to see strong political backing for the model across England, Scotland and Wales but there are a number of challenges in the current welfare and housing systems that prevent us from seeing the model reach its full potential and be a key contributor to ending homelessness once and for all.
That’s why Crisis has joined Homeless Link in a partnership that will continue to champion the Housing First approach nationwide. The partnership will continue to foster and support projects and networks across England that use Housing First as a model for ending homelessness for people with complex support needs. Homeless Link has been successfully leading and developing the project, called Housing First England, since 2016, growing a movement of Housing First in England.
Since 2016 Crisis has undertaken two feasibility studies of its own (in the Liverpool City Region and in Torbay) setting out how Housing First can be scaled up to provide a service for all who need it while sitting as part of wider system change to improve all local homeless services.
Last year Crisis and Homeless Link also published a report by Imogen Blood and Associates to understand what is needed to implement Housing First at scale across England, Scotland and Wales. The research estimated a total of 18,376 people (16,434 in England, 1,356 in Scotland and 586 in Wales) who are currently homeless and have complex or multiple needs would be potential beneficiaries of Housing First.
By partnering we can combine our resources and expertise to secure the changes we need so those 18,376 people do receive the right support and the home that they need. Housing First can only work if suitable housing can be identified and accessed. A stable base, choice and security of tenure are central to putting the principles into practice. We need greater investment in new supply with a view to using both new and existing stock for Housing First. Significant national commitment to housing development is an essential part of this and should be considered through mechanisms such as a local/ social lettings agency or a national housing association.
Welfare reform also poses several challenges. The shortfall between local housing allowance (LHA) and average rents, the Shared Accommodation Rate (SAR) for under 35s and increase conditionality within the welfare system restricts access to housing and puts people at risk of debt and rent arrears. There are also concerns about current short term and siloed funding which stifles effective joined up support and stops people with multiple needs from accessing other vital services including mental health and substance misuse.
Any scaling up would need to be managed in a planned way in the context of adhering to the Housing First principles and alongside strong prevention services other housing solutions to ending homelessness locally. But we know this is possible. Strategic leadership from national government has been central to the successful implementation of Housing First in Finland, France and Canada.
We have the evidence about how and who Housing First best works for, and our partnership with Homeless Link will continue to build on this substantial knowledge base. What we now need is the political will and long-term funding to make Housing First happen at scale and in adherence with the principles to achieve our goal of ending homelessness for good.
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