Housing First is unique – let’s do it right

Tuesday, 3 October 2017 - 6:23pm

As the concept of Housing First becomes more popular, it is at times being misunderstood. 

Wayne Housing First resident

Jo Prestidge explains why we have to get it right to create real change for those that need it.

Housing First is the opportunity to truly end homelessness for the many people experiencing multiple disadvantage in our country. The internationally recognised approach, underpinned by a set of principles, involves providing non-conditional and independent accommodation with high quality, holistic support that is intensive and open-ended.

Worryingly, however, as the term ‘Housing First’ enters the sector’s vocabulary, we have seen it start to be misused. This misunderstanding of what it is, can at best leave vulnerable people in tenancies, but without adequate support. And at the very worst, be used to justify cuts to existing support provision. 

Confusion often arises due to the idea that Housing First is predominantly a focus on prioritising access to housing. However, this description could more accurately be termed ‘housing-led’; Housing First is different. Yes, it prioritises housing, but the personalised support that enables people to live in it successfully is as important. You can find further information on Housing First verses housing-led, in our report here.

Why distinguish Housing First from housing people first?

There is a strong evidence base behind the Housing First approach – on which our Housing First England project is based; showing it achieves fantastic results for people who experience multiple disadvantages.

Moving away from the specific approach reduces its effectiveness, and providers will not achieve the same success as services with high fidelity to the principles. This in turn, calls the model into question and as such, the efficacy of those projects that really do work to the principles.

Significantly more important is that the service runs the risk of failing and re-traumatising its vulnerable beneficiaries. 

Housing First is intended to support individuals with the most complex needs. It shouldn’t be seen as the last resort for people whom all other services have failed, but as an option that should be available for those that need it.

Being very clear about what Housing First is and is not, is a key goal for Housing First England and the wider international movement. Phrases like ‘a Housing First type approach’ or ‘it’s like Housing First’ merely weaken the approach for everyone.

This is not to say that housing-led services are not achieving success for a wide range of people experiencing homelessness, but they are different. There is one Housing First approach and many ways of housing people first.

So what is Housing First and who is it for?

  • A set of principles that underpin holistic support. Many housing-led services are not delivered in line with all of the principles but may have similarities.
  • A high-intensity support service with small caseloads to enable flexible and frequent contact.  Many housing-led services offer lower intensity and often time-limited support.
  • Expensive, but cost-effective for those individuals that it is intended for. It is not a low-cost option that can replace other services as a means of saving money. 
  • For any individual who struggles to access, engage with or move through mainstream services despite age, gender, or predominant support need. The principles are the principles regardless of the beneficiary.

Housing First is popular - we need to get it right

The popularity and growing use of Housing First across England is exciting. Local authorities, homelessness organisations and many others are identifying that this is the key to ending ‘chronic’ homelessness in their area.

Not only that, but Housing First has piqued the interest at a national policy level. In the last year alone, we’ve seen reports around the subject published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Centre for Social Justice and Crisis. In addition to, a pledge in the Conservative Manifesto and verbal commitments by The Secretary of State, Sajid Javid MP.

Help us to ensure that when someone uses the term ‘Housing First’, they really know what this is. Help us to ensure that when a vulnerable person is offered Housing First, it is the right option for them and is of the best quality. Help us ensure that through Housing First we can together end homelessness in England for those facing the most severe disadvantages.  

Housing First in England - The Principles

We have developed the principles required for commissioning, designing and delivering a Housing First service in England, to support a national Housing First movement and ensure that positive client outcomes are achieved.

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Jo Prestidge

Innovation and good practice project manager

Jo is an innovation and good practice project manager, leading a range of projects and training including Housing First England and Trauma Informed Care.