The Housing First approach is an internationally proven method of helping people who are experiencing homelessness. The model is predicated on the principle that people are helped to obtain mainstream housing of their choosing, alongside being provided with ongoing and persistent support, that focuses on their innate assets and strengths.
National governments throughout Great Britain are piloting the Housing First initiative, as part of a strategies to end rough sleeping. Collectively the Scottish, Welsh and UK Governments have allocated approximately £40m, to roll-out the Housing First approach, with more than 1000 people participating in pilots so far. Relationship breakdown and individual heath related problems are common matters which people identify as needing support with to make some change to their lives.
Numerous local authorities have pledged to adopt the Housing First model as part of local strategies to tackle homelessness. A considerable volume research and good practice is being undertaken, and collected and disseminated by organisations such as Homeless Link and Homeless Network Scotland. In the majority of areas, the Housing First approach hasn’t previously been successfully adopted. Introducing the Housing First approach is an objective not just local authority also voluntary organisations, many of whom have been successful in securing funding from various public bodies and philanthropic trusts, to kick-start their own projects.
Typically, voluntary organisations are commission to deliver Housing First projects, as they have suitable infrastructure and experience to support the delivery of this type of provision.
For a Housing First project to successful they must be delivered in line with best practice, with matters such as the administration of personalised budgets reflecting common convention. There must also a strong presence of partnership working, with frequent contact between all parties involved in commissioning and delivering a Housing First project, especially support providers and housing associations (and other types of landlords, where relevant).
The operational delivery of a Housing First project must have a rich service culture, with staff having frequent supervision and there being low levels of staff turnover, especially in the managerial posts. Support workers must possess all key competencies expected of them, with training and learning actively informing and influence daily practice. Essential operational process and quality assurance measures should be established early on.
Agreements should be forged with local housing associations, and these need to be compatible with the legislative and regulatory requirements they are beholden to. In areas of limited social housing supply, an option for creating a local lettings agency could be considered.
There should be continuous meaningful opportunities for people with a lived experience of homelessness to get involved with a Housing First project. This could involve recruiting of staff and design of external independent evaluation. These strands of work should be truly service user-led.
There must be sufficient recording of casework activities (e.g. needs assessments, risk assessments, etc), project results and project outcomes. A casework management system, linked to an outcome-based suitable support planning tool will be needed from the outset.
Budgets need to be profiled to take account of all spend and ensure a clear understand of what funding remains available for the remainder of a project.
A staffing structure needs to be set out clearly who is responsible for the day-today delivery of a Housing First project. There need to be robust links between those leading on commissioning of Housing First projects, those who are responsible for wider homelessness strategy and those responsible for the day-today delivery of a Housing First project.
A new Housing First project will need a six-month service initiation plan, to ensure the project delivers against funding requirements and to best practice standards. An exit strategy should be in place for all fixed-term funded Housing First projects, to ensure current operational activities are suitably mainstreamed at the end of a project. Commissioners should develop a service delivery specification in co-operation with a wide range of stakeholders, especially those with lived experience of homelessness. Commissioners should carry out a a full market competition to appoint a supplier(s) or a consortium(s), to operate in a local authority area or across a wider region. The focus of commissioners should be to ensure that a Housing First projects delivers agreed outcome, and that this is being done in tandem and complimentary to other efforts for drawing together a local approach to preventing homelessness.
First class success can be achieved by Housing First projects, when services, strategies, commissioning and partnerships are informed by the following principles:
• Act in the best interest of current and future potential participants,
• Ensure the accountability and deliverability, and
• Adhere to the fidelity of the Housing First approach.