Category Archives: Homes for Cathy Blo

A year on, Hightown’s Housing First experience

It’s nearly been a year since Hightown began its Housing First project so we’ve caught up with Gemma Richardson, Head of Care and Supported Housing in Hertfordshire at Hightown, to find out how the project has been going and what the future holds.

What is Housing First?

Housing First is a housing and support approach which gives people who have experienced homelessness or repeat history of homelessness or rough sleeping and who have multiple and complex needs, a stable home from which to rebuild their lives. It provides intensive, person-centred, holistic support that is open-ended (defined by Homeless Link).

Hightown launched its pilot in October 2019 following the recruitment of new staff. The project has been going well, with eight people housed by the service with another two people being actively helped.  Two individuals are engaging with the Housing First team after years of rough sleeping and want to move into housing and receive the team’s support.

How has the pilot been going?

There have some positive stories from the people that have been helped so far, including Malcolm and Liana, featured in the video below. Have a listen to hear why Housing First is needed in addition to the other homelessness services that Hightown help to run. 

However, there have also been many points to learn from over the last year. For example, there have been a couple of individuals that have really struggled, since they have very complex needs. Finding the right Housing First offer for them in terms of both housing and support, is being reassessed. This is one of the key differences of this programme compared to other homelessness support as the housing and support given is very personalised so it may not be right straight away and changes may need to be made. The team are doing some very intensive work with a couple of individuals and working with all partners involved in the project including Homeless Link, the project management staff from Housing First England and Hightown’s local partners. Together we are trying to help them move forward and make sure they don’t return to the street

The programme takes a partnership approach, can you tell us more about this? 

The project is funded from Rough Sleeper Initiative (RSI) funding, which was awarded following a joint bid by Dacorum Borough Council and St Albans City Council. The partnership working with Dacorum Borough Council and St Albans City Council has been integral to developing the Housing First project.

There is a monthly Housing First panel which is made up of local homelessness charities, the local councils and Hightown. We exchange information, talk about who is engaging with the service, identify who needs to be helped and discuss which housing options are available. The panel act as our project managers and help us keep on track and check our performance.

What’s next for Housing First?

The current RSI funding for Housing First runs until March 2021. We hope that further funding will be made available so we can continue this important work. We are building our case to secure longer term funding, since we think Housing First should be an option for people across the county and the existing homelessness support isn’t going to fit everybody’s needs. There will always be some people who need more support than the day / night centres can offer. For some people night shelters and supported living cannot meet all their needs.

World Homeless Day 2020

World Homeless Day is a chance for our community and members to highlight the needs of homeless people.

We’ve partnered with South Yorkshire HA, Shared Health, One Housing, BCHA and Hightown HA across here and our social media channels today to help educate and celebrate the work being done by some of our members and partners.


South Yorkshire Housing Association

Mazrab came from Afghanistan in 2011 with his family as refugees. SYHA and his support worker Kay have helped the family settle in South Yorkshire.

Vic Stirling, Head of services for homeless services, answers some questions about the misconceptions around homelessness and where she would like extra funding to be spent.


Shared Health

Shared Health Foundation is an initiative of the Oglesby Charitable Trust,
which is seeking to tackle health inequalities across Greater Manchester. They shared the following from their call to action report.

The poorer the area, the greater the need and the lack quality healthcare available. Our families sometimes get placed in emergency accommodation that is out of borough and miles away from their families, communities, schools and GPs. They then can’t access the same resources as everyone else easily. 

The children in these families also don’t get the same rights as Looked After Children so don’t get any official extra help or support from schools. The help they do get is professionals going above and beyond.

Their situation from fleeing domestic violence affects their health and can set them back years as the ‘temporary accommodation’ can last up to 2 years.

Read more :
A Call to Action:
To safeguard homeless families during the Covid-19 pandemic
and in its aftermath

One Housing

Ahmed a customer at One Housing, tells us where he would like more government funding spent.


BCHA

BCHA want to say a big THANK YOU to all their staff and volunteers that have gone above and beyond this year to help those that are homeless, particularly when lockdown happened. Below is some of the help they offered to take on.

A senior practitioner from BCHA Bournemouth and Christchurch domestic abuse service has also shared how their residents battle isolation everyday but this year has been particularly testing.

Read more here.


Hightown Housing Association

It’s nearly been a year since Hightown began its Housing First project, Malcolm and Liana tell us how they have been helped by the service.

Read more about Hightown’s Housing First journey here.

The Bounce Back Project – No Going Back

No Going Back is an innovative pilot programme to break the cycle of reoffending.

Developed in partnership with the Livery Companies (see below) it will be delivered by the charity, Bounce Back who have 10 years’ experience of working with people in prisons and the community by providing training in construction and related skills and supporting them into sustainable employment.  https://www.bouncebackproject.com/

The remit is jobs in construction, the built environment and facilities management and we will be matching candidates to vacancies provided through the Livery Companies based on participants skills and interests.

No Going Back has astrong focus on housing and community integration. 

Alongside a tailored approach to training and intensive case management support, accommodation will be offered to those who do not have a suitable place to live – a unique aspect of this programme.  In addition, the project will support employers to recognise and maximise the economic benefits that come from recruiting this way to fill their vacancies.

The ambition is to demonstrate impact and swiftly scale the approach.

We are looking for housing partners so we can complete the final element of the programme.  The expectation is that, based on Government figures, 1 in 7 are likely to be leaving prison without housing.  With a target of assisting 40 people into employment during the pilot programme, we estimate that we will need no more than 10 units of housing during the coming year.

We currently only work in men’s prisons, mostly in London, including Brixton, Pentonville, Wandsworth and Isis and are about to start working in Coldingley prison in Surrey.  Most of our participants are single men of all age ranges who would require bedsit or one bed accommodation. We are very open to discussing referral pathways and assessment processes which meet the needs of individual housing providers. 

Our Engagement Managers, one of whom is a housing and resettlement specialist will work closely with housing providers to identify suitable participants who need housing and who are able to access the employment market. The expectation is that the participants will have relatively low support needs. They will continue to receive regular support from their Engagement Manager as well as any other agencies identified to meet a participant’s needs.  The Engagement Manager will stay with the participant on this journey and be available to respond to any issues which may arise regarding their housing, mental or physical health etc. This will include liaison with landlords.

 We are looking to work in genuine partnership with housing providers to better understand the housing landscape and how best to meet the needs of our participants. This will be a key aspect of the independent evaluation which is being conducted by Russell Webster, a leading authority on the Criminal Justice Sector and the prisons are hugely enthusiastic for this to go ahead. Everything will be done to prevent people returning to prison. 

Clearly Covidi9 has had significant impact on the way that the programme is going to be delivered – the prisons are still locked down, prisoner engagement is a challenge and the entire employment landscape has changed considerably.  However, both Bounce Back and the Livery Companies are determined that this programme can offer hope and opportunity to prison leavers.  To this end we are launching on 1 July, and will be exploring new and exciting ways to navigate the system to achieve success. 

We are breaking completely new ground and all parties, including the prisons, are ‘learning on the job’ to respond to this unique situation. 

We would be very happy to discuss the programme in more detail and explore how we can work in partnership to make this project a success which can then be scaled and replicated nationally. Our Project Leader is Paulette Howard Jackson who can be contacted on paulette@bouncebackproject.com and our Interim CEO is Frances Mapstone frances@bouncebackproject.com

*Note:  What are the Livery Companies? Livery Companies have a strong tradition of philanthropic giving.  As the original City of London ‘Guilds’ they are now at the heart of the business world in the City of London and include Haberdasher’s and Goldsmiths.  They give charities over £60m p.a. and have for some time provided funding specifically to enable offenders’ rehabilitation.  In the context of No Going Back, the Livery Companies are keen to broaden understanding with a wider audience including prisoners, housing partners, local authorities and the Corporates that will be engaged on the programme.  A number of people have never encountered the Livery and they hope to change this though this programme.

Get involved

Bounce Back Project

Covid-19: Homelessness, Rough Sleeping, the PRS

Submission from ‘Homes for Cathy Group’ to HCLG Select Committee inquiry

How effective has the support provided by MHCLG and other Government departments in addressing the impact of COVID-19 on those in the private rented sector, rough sleepers, and the homeless?

The Homes for Cathy group is made up of over 100 housing associations and housing charities/organisations who are committed to providing housing and support to homeless people and households and have developed nine Homes for Cathy commitments with the homeless charity, Crisis, which underpin our work.

This submission only relates to rough sleepers and homeless people.

The ‘Everyone In’ initiative has been a huge success in getting rough sleepers off the streets and in to temporary housing and the Government and the MHCLG must be congratulated.

Of course, it has required a massive effort from our members, from local government and from many other housing and support organisations to find accommodation and immediate support for the approximately 5,400 rough sleepers that were housed.

We now need to plan for how those 5,400 people will be permanently housed and supported and the key to this is capital funding to provide affordable housing and revenue funding to provide support.

What problems remain a current and immediate concern for these groups?

Clearly, the primary concern is for the long term future for those rough sleepers recently housed in temporary accommodation. We do not know when they will be asked to leave their current accommodation. There is no fixed ‘end date’ for lockdown. But individual hotels where many of the rough sleepers are housed will eventually want the rooms back.

Another concern, however, is the breakdown of many of the placements that were made. The Guardian has reported that 20% of those rehoused in Manchester are homeless once again, and our members are reporting similar figures in other parts of the country. South Yorkshire Housing Association in Sheffield found that many people rehoused have been targeted and “cuckooed” – typically by drug dealers and criminal groups. Providing the accommodation on its own is not sufficient. Many people need very intensive housing support, such as that provided by Housing First and similar schemes, and the consistent support of other public services such as mental health and drug and alcohol services.

Of course, the need to try to maintain ‘social distancing’ while providing support for the people in the temporary accommodation is a major challenge. Some clients are unwilling to fully cooperate putting staff and other clients at risk.

What might be the immediate post-lockdown impacts for these groups, and what action is needed to help with these?

Immediate action is needed to provide Government funding for the long term housing and support for the 5,400 rough sleepers people housed in temporary accommodation. Otherwise we will be back to square one and the Government’s targets on rough sleeping will not be met.

There is unlikely to be time to build new social/affordable homes from scratch so housing associations need capital funds from Government to:

  • Convert unsold shared ownership homes owned by housing associations to social/affordable rent
  • Convert shared ownership homes under construction and about to be handed over to housing associations to social/affordable rent
  • Convert unsold market sale properties owned by housing associations to social/affordable rent
  • Purchase properties on the open market including new, unsold homes from national and local housebuilders

The primary need will be for one bedroom self-contained flats. Ideally the funding will be sufficient for housing associations to charge social rents which will then reduce the housing benefit bill. The Homes for Cathy group is currently working to provide estimated costings for such a programme.

Homes for Cathy members already provide homelessness support services including Housing First.

It is essential that the housing provided to rough sleepers leaving the temporary accommodation comes with appropriate support services. Many of the rough sleepers have high support needs

Crisis estimate the cost of support for the estimated 5400 rough sleepers will be around £63,000,000 for 12 months and the Homes for Cathy group concurs with this estimate. Crisis estimate that 50% of the rough sleepers will require Housing First support, 30% will require Critical Time Intervention support and 20% will require floating support.

An early commitment from the Government to fund the supply of new social homes to house the 5,400 rough sleepers in temporary accommodation will allow housing associations to immediately gear up to convert tenures or purchase homes and be ready when the lock down ends.

COVID-19: Homelessness, Rough Sleeping, the PRS

Submission from ‘Homes for Cathy Group’ to HCLG Select Committee inquiry

How effective has the support provided by MHCLG and other Government departments in addressing the impact of COVID-19 on those in the private rented sector, rough sleepers, and the homeless?

The Homes for Cathy group is made up of over 100 housing associations and housing charities/organisations who are committed to providing housing and support to homeless people and households and have developed nine Homes for Cathy commitments with the homeless charity, Crisis, which underpin our work.

This submission only relates to rough sleepers and homeless people.

The ‘Everyone In’ initiative has been a huge success in getting rough sleepers off the streets and in to temporary housing and the Government and the MHCLG must be congratulated.

Of course, it has required a massive effort from our members, from local government and from many other housing and support organisations to find accommodation and immediate support for the approximately 5,400 rough sleepers that were housed.

We now need to plan for how those 5,400 people will be permanently housed and supported and the key to this is capital funding to provide affordable housing and revenue funding to provide support.

What problems remain a current and immediate concern for these groups?

Clearly, the primary concern is for the long term future for those rough sleepers recently housed in temporary accommodation. We do not know when they will be asked to leave their current accommodation. There is no fixed ‘end date’ for lockdown. But individual hotels where many of the rough sleepers are housed will eventually want the rooms back.

Another concern, however, is the breakdown of many of the placements that were made. The Guardian has reported that 20% of those rehoused in Manchester are homeless once again, and our members are reporting similar figures in other parts of the country. South Yorkshire Housing Association in Sheffield found that many people rehoused have been targeted and “cuckooed” – typically by drug dealers and criminal groups. Providing the accommodation on its own is not sufficient. Many people need very intensive housing support, such as that provided by Housing First and similar schemes, and the consistent support of other public services such as mental health and drug and alcohol services.

Of course, the need to try to maintain ‘social distancing’ while providing support for the people in the temporary accommodation is a major challenge. Some clients are unwilling to fully cooperate putting staff and other clients at risk.

What might be the immediate post-lockdown impacts for these groups, and what action is needed to help with these?

Immediate action is needed to provide Government funding for the long term housing and support for the 5,400 rough sleepers people housed in temporary accommodation. Otherwise we will be back to square one and the Government’s targets on rough sleeping will not be met.

There is unlikely to be time to build new social/affordable homes from scratch so housing associations need capital funds from Government to:

  • Convert unsold shared ownership homes owned by housing associations to social/affordable rent
  • Convert shared ownership homes under construction and about to be handed over to housing associations to social/affordable rent
  • Convert unsold market sale properties owned by housing associations to social/affordable rent
  • Purchase properties on the open market including new, unsold homes from national and local housebuilders

The primary need will be for one bedroom self-contained flats. Ideally the funding will be sufficient for housing associations to charge social rents which will then reduce the housing benefit bill. The Homes for Cathy group is currently working to provide estimated costings for such a programme.

Homes for Cathy members already provide homelessness support services including Housing First.

It is essential that the housing provided to rough sleepers leaving the temporary accommodation comes with appropriate support services. Many of the rough sleepers have high support needs

Crisis estimate the cost of support for the estimated 5400 rough sleepers will be around £63,000,000 for 12 months and the Homes for Cathy group concurs with this estimate. Crisis estimate that 50% of the rough sleepers will require Housing First support, 30% will require Critical Time Intervention support and 20% will require floating support.

An early commitment from the Government to fund the supply of new social homes to house the 5,400 rough sleepers in temporary accommodation will allow housing associations to immediately gear up to convert tenures or purchase homes and be ready when the lock down ends.

Six steps that could help us transform the way we tackle homelessness

First published in Inside Housing, Comment 21/04/2020

BY DR LIGIA TEIXEIRA, CEO of Homeless Impact

There is a danger the response to the COVID-19 pandemic will ultimately amount to little more than rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic when it comes to homelessness, writes Dr Lígia Teixeira. Here she sets out six suggestions for overhauling the system to deliver lasting change.

On April 14, 1912 —108 years ago last week— the RMS Titanic sank, and 1,500 lives were lost. As with the coronavirus pandemic today, the story was headline news when it happened.

Since the fateful night when the ship hit the iceberg, it has left a remarkable cultural legacy. “Rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic” being probably the most famous metaphor connected to any major disaster, and one that provides a useful thought experiment in relation to homelessness.

Today we sense that the coronavirus pandemic will transform the economy beyond all recognition and hit the poorest in society hardest, potentially pushing greater numbers of people than ever before into homelessness. The outbreak came at a time when governments and cities across the UK had committed to plans to end homelessness. History had already told us this was never going to be easy, but the task is about to get a lot harder.

In a field like homelessness, filled with age old habits and passions, but with a lack of clear, rigorous evidence, what can be done to steer clear of disaster?

In fact, what can be done to turn the crisis into an opportunity to transform the homelessness system and ensure we’re not just “rearranging the deck chairs”?

The story of the Titanic offers several concrete suggestions.

1 Question assumptions and cultivate imagination

The Titanic’s owners and her captain assumed that it could never sink. Their overconfidence led to poor decisions — such as removing an entire row of lifeboats just before she sailed for purely cosmetic reasons.

The ability to question assumptions may well be one of the most important habits to cultivate in homelessness today.

We should be asking ourselves, “Should the aim be to return to business as usual post-crisis, including helping people housed in hotels during the pandemic return to shelter-style accommodation? Or may this be a unique opportunity to try something better?”

Humility, asking the right questions, and using data and evidence to test prevailing assumptions is vital at a time like this.

We also need to be more creative.

For instance, the default way to address homelessness is still by providing emergency housing and services, even though evidence suggests that this is costly and ineffective.

It does not address the root cause of homelessness and people can become institutionalised and exposed to trauma or victimisation in the process.

You’d think we would have found alternatives by now. We haven’t, because we find it hard to believe that the systems we’ve created may be part of the problem or that anything better is even possible. We’ve lacked imagination, but there is nothing inevitable about this — we cannot change the past but we can change the future.

2 Go slow to go fast

The Titanic was travelling too quickly — 22 knots in an ice field. Had she been slower, she may well have missed the iceberg altogether.

In homelessness, we are often fixated on delivering solutions at pace. This is understandable given that lives can be at stake. But knowing when to slow down in order to go faster later may be just as important.

Are we making enough time to collect the data and evidence we need to make the right decisions? Are we stepping back often enough to understand what different subpopulations need? What do they want to accomplish? What are their goals? Are there ways to build the technology to handle their needs more effectively, while reducing evaluation costs?

3 Heed warnings and evidence

Ships nearby attempted to warn the Titanic, but the messages were ignored. Other signs were also missed such was the crew’s confidence that the journey would be a smooth one.

In the UK, a spike in homelessness levels seems likely within months unless major steps are taken.

Things have been moving in the right direction. But with the economy seemingly in free fall, it will be important for government and local areas across the UK to continue to act fast, with clarity, while also taking the long-term view.

We also need to use evidence and data to figure out what works for whom and what doesn’t, allowing us to reject the dangerous half-truths that often pass for wisdom. How else will we know whether we are doing the most good we can with the resources available?

4 Build better systems, as well as better lifeboats

To prevent homelessness at population level, requires complicated, system-wide solutions. We need to acknowledge that even our better services can never be more than lifeboats.

To create a better homelessness system you have to first understand how we came by the current one.

Since Victorian times, a homeless person could call upon the services of the Poor Law’s workhouse casual wards but also charities, such as the Salvation Army, which operated hostels, shelters and soup kitchens, as well as private entrepreneurs running lodging houses.

The modern homelessness system developed from there, more or less by accident.

By combining the intuitive and exploratory nature of person-centred design, with the leverage-minded and strategic nature of systems thinking, and improving the way data and evidence is generated to drive better outcomes, we can begin to shift the system.

Current evidence suggests that most homeless people need temporary low-support with resolving a recent housing loss and other significant life event, or with transitioning out of an institutional living environment.

They do not necessarily need an emergency housing stay. By reallocating resources towards prevention – including interventions that help mainstream services respond more effectively to people at risk – and more normalised housing environments, our approach to addressing homelessness will be more humane and effective.

We also know that to stop the flow of people into homelessness we need to address the larger housing affordability issues, and ensure welfare support and wages are adequate.

5 Communicate, communicate, communicate

Despite having state-of-the-art communication systems, the Titanic failed to effectively communicate with three nearby ships that actually could have rescued all of its passengers.

The government’s daily coronavirus updates have gone a long way towards setting out the official plan and the rationale behind the decisions being made.

Given the likely disproportionate impact on the homeless population it may be beneficial to double down on subject specific communications efforts at both national and local levels. In the absence of information, people will make it up.

Creating plenty of opportunities to let them talk and ask questions will make them feel better and help decision-makers gather and respond to feedback quickly.

6 Foster collective leadership

Lack of co-operation and collaboration resulted in greater loss of life when the Titanic sank.

While there seemed to be a ship relatively close by, the nearest ship responding to Titanic’s SOS distress signal was Carpathia, and she was more than four hours away.

We get so caught up in our daily work that we often forget to build powerful collaborative networks.

Yet collaboration and support across organisations and sectors is one of the best ways to help people experiencing homelessness both now and post crisis.

This will involve shifting focus from reactive responses to having more generative conversations about how we might co-create the future.

Building a new homelessness system is vital to achieve our ambitious goals, but it won’t be easy.

Tackling a tough complicated social issue like homelessness requires a willingness to question assumptions, discover new possibilities, and experiment to find out how to make the most good with existing resources.

But with collective leadership and a humble ‘what works’ mindset we can change course. In fact, the future of this particular ship depends on it.

Veteran homelessness: Asking the right questions is crucial

Veteran issues have been in the spotlight recently, with the launch of the Government’s Veteran Strategy, and the creation of the Office of Veteran Affairs. Homes for Cathy member Riverside is one housing association that is committed to supporting veterans – Homes for Cathy spoke to Lee Buss, Riverside Director of Operations and Group Veterans Lead, to find out about the particular challenges veterans face in obtaining housing and how, as a sector, we can better respond to their needs.

As part of its commitment to veterans facing homelessness, Riverside runs three veteran accommodation services and two resettlement support services.  The Beacon, Hardwick House and Mike Jackson House supported accommodation centres were developed by staff who have served in the Armed Forces themselves – something that the organisation believes is an important factor in running effective services.  In addition, Riverside operates SPACES, a resettlement advice and case work service, which has helped over 18,000 homeless ex-servicemen and women since it was established in 2000.  Another Riverside housing advice service is located with the Military Corrective Training Centre (MCTC) in Colchester. 

Tailored veteran support

According to Lee Buss – a veteran himself – one of the main challenges around supporting veterans is a sense of disconnection from civilian society.  He says:

“The Royal British Legion estimates there are 6,000 homeless veterans in the UK, and while the number of veterans sleeping rough isn’t 100% clear, most estimates place the figure at around 3% to 4% of the rough sleeping population.  As veterans represent around 5% of the overall population, this means that veterans are actually proportionally under-represented in terms of homelessness statistics. 

“Everyone’s journey into and out of homelessness is particular to them. However, specific populations such as veterans tend toward specific needs requiring specific responses. It takes a veteran on average nine years to ask for help – they can find it very difficult to engage with and trust professionals in services who have no military background, often as a result of their experience of transition, making them feel threatened, isolated and insular.  They’re more likely to take up help if it’s being offered by an organisation that they know specifically supports veterans and that they perceive understands them, particularly if it’s in the form of peer support from other veterans.”

He adds: “As in the general population, veteran homelessness is commonly linked to trauma – although ex-servicemen and women are no more pre-disposed to PTSD than anyone else, the experience of battle can make a pre-existing condition resurface.  Providing the right type of support is therefore crucial.”

In terms of housing, Lee is keen to stress veterans should not necessarily be given preference for properties over other vulnerable groups – instead the obstacles and barriers that hinder their pathways out of homelessness and into housing need to be removed.

“It’s not about veterans being given special treatment, it’s about putting measures in place to ensure they’re not disadvantaged as a result of their service.  For example, in terms of choice based lettings or access to supported housing, the local connection criteria can have a real impact for people leaving the Armed Forces, who may been posted abroad or lived in different military bases across the UK.  We are supporting veterans housing association Stoll and the Cobseo Housing Cluster in their campaign for local authorities to sign up to the Armed Forces covenant, whereby they promise to ensure that veterans and armed forces personnel are not disadvantaged as a result of their service.”

Signposting and asking the right questions

Outside of specialist supported housing for veterans, the one area where housing associations can have an influence over veteran homelessness is to develop a better knowledge of the organisations that support veterans, in order to be able to guide tenants to the appropriate, tailored support. 

“There’s a huge amount of support for veterans on offer but you can only signpost them to it if you know what’s out there.  Housing associations can help by compiling a list of local organisations that frontline staff can direct veterans towards,” adds Lee. 

However, the most crucial thing is to have measures in place to identify veterans from the point of engagement, a message that is echoed in Stoll and the Cobseo Housing Cluster’s No Homeless Veterans campaign, which urges housing and homelessness staff to ‘Think Veteran’ and identify people who are ex-Forces.

Lee concludes:

“It’s vital that housing officers know who their veterans are, and have some insight into their unique history and circumstances and the services available to support them – so housing associations need to ensure they ask prospective tenants their veteran status and have systems in place to record it.”

To find out more about Riverside’s veterans services and research and recommendations into tackling veteran homelessness, click here.  To find out more about the network of organisations supporting the Armed Forces community, visit Veterans Gateway.

Does your organisation offer support for veterans?  How can housing providers improve veterans’ pathways into housing?  We’d love to hear from you – get in touch with us at homesfor.cathy@hightownha.org.uk or comment below.

The social landlords making Housing First work

Homes for Cathy hears from three member organisations that have played a role in getting Housing First schemes off the ground to discover the challenges housing associations face in making the model a success.

Developed in the US in the 80s and adopted with widespread success in mainland Europe, Housing First is an evidence-based approach to homelessness intervention that has gained significant momentum in the UK over the past three years.

Heralded as a solution to our growing rough sleeping crisis, the approach takes entrenched rough sleepers with high and complex needs off the streets and into permanent accommodation with intensive, tailored and open-ended support.  Unlike traditional approaches to homelessness intervention, with Housing First no preconditions are placed on individuals, only a willingness to maintain their tenancy agreement.  Individuals are not required to address any other needs they might have, or engage with other services, in order to keep their home.

The model has attracted high profile support; in 2017 Theresa May pledged £28 million to fund three regional Housing First pilots in Greater Manchester, Liverpool and the West Midlands, the Scottish government is investing £6.5 million in a three year Housing First roll-out and in Wales, £700,000 has been allocated by the government for Housing First schemes.  

Aside from these pilots, many more Housing First schemes have been launched at local level – around two thirds of these have been funded by local authorities, usually through Housing Related Support budgets, according to Housing First England.

Social landlords have been called upon to help get schemes off the ground, by providing both accommodation and in some cases the wraparound support that is intrinsic to making the model work.  However, the relative infancy of Housing First in the UK means the model represents uncharted waters for most housing associations, and many face a steep learning curve in establishing schemes. 

Securing funding and pilot projects

Gaining board approval and securing funding is only the tip of the iceberg in what can be a lengthy process.  Homes for Cathy member, Soha Housing, worked with its key local authority, South Oxfordshire District Council (SODC), which put up joint funding for a pilot project of six properties from Soha’s housing stock. 

Maureen Adams, Soha’s Director of Services and Communities, comments:

“SODC helped establish a Project Board and provided access to homeless people with complex needs, suggesting ways to manage the risks and establish a framework that would be acceptable to homeless people, the local community, and politicians alike.

“We then worked with Aspire, a local specialist charity with expertise in homelessness and staff skilled in handling vulnerability and substance misuse, who provided extensive pre-engagement activity with service users.”

Stephanie Wood, Head of Supported Housing at Homes for Cathy member Sovereign Housing, which is involved with Housing First schemes in West Berkshire and on the Isle of Wight in partnership with charity Two Saints, says:

“Housing associations need to consider that it can take a very long time to get Housing First schemes up and running.  A lot of work happens to get everyone on the same page before a person is housed, from identifying suitable people through to building their trust and getting their buy in.  Every stakeholder in the project needs to be realistic about the timescales involved, particularly as there are usually multiple agencies working together.”

Establishing eligibility

Establishing eligibility is an important part of the process.  While stakeholders involved in setting up schemes may have a good knowledge of individuals who would be suitable, in a multi-agency approach, ideas can differ. 

Daniel Revell-Wiseman, Care and Supported Housing Contracts Manager for Hightown Housing Association, which is working with both St Albans District Council and Dacorum Borough Council in Hemel Hempstead to launch a Housing First scheme, comments:

“Working across areas can be a challenge, as in each area there can be differing needs in terms of who is a priority for housing. Having a strong criteria for the service is therefore essential in order to easily assess the individuals who could benefit the most.”

The longer timescales necessary to identify suitable tenants and carry out pre-engagement work can have ramifications for landlords in terms of the accommodation they have identified for schemes. 

Daniel adds:

“To be true to the Housing First model, we should identify the service user first and then find suitable property.  However, in reality, we have found possible properties before we have had referrals.  It can be a challenge to have homes available at the point you need them – registered providers need to be prepared for longer void periods as a result.”

Flexible approach

Indeed, flexibility is key to making the model work – for Sovereign this was a matter of re-thinking pre-conceived ideas of what type of accommodation would be suitable.

Stephanie Wood says:

“Previously, we had set principles of what our Housing First homes should look like – for example, not in a town centre so service users could not go back to their old way of life.  However, we’ve come to realise that the best type of accommodation is always very specific to the resident.  Now we take time to match the accommodation to the individual, and although they don’t go through choice based lettings, we do offer them some flexibility about where they want to go.”

One of the biggest learning curves for housing associations is around formalising new processes and systems that meet the Housing First approach, establishing what is and what isn’t needed and adapting the existing mindset within their organisation.

Sovereign reviewed its tenancy agreement and tenancy sign up processes to better suit the Housing First model, making the meeting to go through the tenancy agreement a different day to the sign up itself.  This approach has minimised potential distractions and allowed staff time to spend setting expectations, while giving tenants the opportunity to process the information and ask questions. 

Sign up takes place in a neutral place other than Sovereign’s offices or the accommodation, to provide a less intimidating, less formal environment.

Stephanie adds:

“It’s all about gaining the trust of the tenant; they may have had a bad experience with a housing association or other service provider in the past, for example in a hostel the service provider runs.”

Once Housing First tenants are in their accommodation, flexibility around rent is also crucial to making the model work. 

Comments Stephanie:

“We’re offering fixed term tenancies, so we’re carrying a big chunk of risk.  Despite this, we have had to be more relaxed in terms of collecting rent.  For example, we recently had a hiccup with a Universal Credit application – our income team reported that no application had been processed, but because the tenant was flagged up on our system as Housing First, we did not pursue the normal income recovery procedures.”

Measuring success

So far, all three housing associations report positive feedback from the Housing First schemes in which they’re involved, however with a model that centres on open-ended support, continued funding remains a key consideration.   

Soha’s Maureen Adams concludes:

“Several months after the scheme was launched, Soha has housed 13 nominations and is moving people who would be difficult to house through traditional choice based lettings routes into homes where they want to live. 

“It’s been an important new venture that staff and residents are backing, including our chief executive, who helped steer it through at board level.  However, gathering evidence of the scheme’s success will be imperative, particularly as we plan to approach other public funded bodies to seek additional funding in order to extend the project. To this end, we have commissioned an independent evaluation by a social research agency to ensure we are adhering to the Housing First principles.”

For more information on Housing First, including guidance and toolkits for social landlords, visit Housing First England.

Is your organisation involved in a Housing First scheme?  We would love to hear about your experiences, the challenges you have faced and advice you would give to other organisations looking to implement the approach.  Email us at homesfor.cathy@hightownha.org.uk.