Mark Taylor, Assistant Director of Services

Over the past few years, the Housing First approach has become an integral part of SHP services. As we gear up to start rolling out the approach in Newham and Islington, Mark Taylor, SHP's Assistant Director of Services, has blogged about the pioneering approach. 

Way back in 2010, in what seems like another lifetime, I was a member of the Camden Council Commissioning Team that commissioned the original Housing First programme in England. Even then, SHP was at the forefront of innovation. This pilot went on to be one of the most significant and effective new approaches to homelessness prevention in a generation.

As the name suggests, Housing First places the emphasis on housing before everything else. It is founded on a recognition that having your own front door is a basic human right and can provide the platform for the development of personal resilience and recovery. Alongside the housing there is intensive, non-judgemental support that builds on individuals’ strengths and aspirations, and allows the time and space to develop self-directed support. This contrasts with the hostel model, which often presents vulnerable people with complex needs with a series of endless hoops to jump through – more often set by the agendas of agencies and commissioners rather than the person themselves.

The evidence from the pilot and many subsequent evaluations demonstrates the value of Housing First, in particular for those with the most complex and challenging needs. Not only does it give someone a roof over their head, it also affords a level of dignity and respect too often missing from other approaches.

Significant impact on the continent

Housing First was developed in New York in the 1990’s. After having a significant impact on the continent, it has rapidly gained traction here in the UK with the model being heavily promoted by both the Greater London Authority and central government – even making the manifesto of the Conservative party. In fact, it was probably one of the few items in that manifesto that was actually implemented, with £28m allocated to Liverpool, Manchester and the West Midlands in the autumn budget in 2017.

Over the past few years, Housing First has become an integral part of our approach at SHP. Our Fulfilling Lives in Islington and Camden service has delivered a Housing First approach for many of its most vulnerable clients, with the overwhelming majority managing to sustain their tenancies. More recently we have seen the model form part of the Redbridge Floating Support Service, and we have also started delivering the scheme in Newham.

Social housing as the basis for accommodation

This month, we will begin delivering Housing First in Islington. In a pioneering step for the model in London, Islington will be using social housing as the basis for the accommodation rather than private rented accommodation. The exponential rise in rough sleeping, coupled with the limited availability of hostel accommodation, is likely to drive the ongoing expansion of Housing First.

But could this approach actually replace hostels? Evidence from the original pilot suggests that it’s slightly cheaper – an attractive prospect for councils in London who have seen their budgets for services decimated in the past decade. The approach also appears to deliver better outcomes in terms of housing sustainment, health, well-being and anti-social behaviour. So it could be argued that Housing First represents a potentially more efficient use of public expenditure in reducing chronic homelessness.

However the comprehensive research carried out by Homeless Link in 2015 flagged a number of barriers to wider roll-out. Reliance on housing benefit, coupled with complex needs, can mean that prospective tenants who qualify for Housing First are less than appealing to private landlords. Providers also struggle to raise money for a deposit and find properties within their Local Housing Allowance rate. And there is still a lack of understanding, buy in and take up of the approach among commissioners and agencies.

Lack of affordable accommodation

But, the biggest challenge is without a doubt the lack of affordable accommodation. This is especially the case in London, where the housing crisis is forcing more and more people onto the streets every day. We are at breaking point, with one in 25 adults now homeless in London.

Until this fundamental challenge is addressed, Housing First will remain an important and effective part of the armory to tackle homelessness, but will only work as a complimentary option alongside the existing hostel and supported accommodation that so many homeless people rely on.