Tag Archives: Housing First

Moving away from traditional models of homeless accommodation

In our latest look at how members are using Next Steps Accommodation grants, Homes for Cathy caught up with Charlotte Murray, Co-Director of Care, Health & Wellbeing at South Yorkshire Housing Association, who shared how the funding is helping replace traditional models of homeless accommodation in South Yorkshire with dispersed properties, supporting people living with multiple, complex issues to overcome their challenges.

How does SYHA work to eliminate homelessness in your local area?

At South Yorkshire Housing Association, we believe a high quality, safe and stable home is the foundation for everyone to settle, live well and realise their potential.  We work with homeless people to understand their needs and issues, co-producing services which seek to address the root causes of homelessness, and providing essential services such as hostels.

We’re particularly proud of our Housing First programmes, especially our most established programme in Rotherham.  In partnership with Target Housing and Rotherham Borough Council, we’re providing homes and support for 30 previously homeless people across the borough.  In 2020, through funding from Homeless Link, we employed our first Trauma Informed Counsellor. Through co-design with Housing First customers, we identified an urgent, unmet need for bespoke psychological support which recognised the complexity of their lives and mental health conditions. The model is already proving highly successful and we’re training staff across other services in delivering trauma-informed approaches.

Of course, Housing First is just one part of how SYHA is working to eliminate homelessness; other services we deliver include high-quality social housing and hostel provision. Across the Sheffield City Region, we work collaboratively with cross-sector partners – from specialist charities to statutory services including local authorities, the NHS and police – to ensure a proactive, coordinated response to homelessness, which maximises our collective resources and expertise.

An issue we’re discussing a lot at SYHA is dispersed accommodation. Traditional models of placing homeless people with multiple, complex issues together in one building have simply not proved effective – it tends to increase, not decrease, the challenges homeless people are seeking to overcome, such as conflict, violence, and substance misuse. Finding cost-effective and scalable solutions to replace the model is one of my top priorities.

Being a Homes for Cathy member is important to SYHA. Having a forum to discuss ideas around homelessness openly with other housing associations helps ensure we’re taking on board latest practice and evidence. Equally, we can share what we’re doing with others, which often sparks further conversations and sharing of our approaches.
     
Could you explain about the background to your NSAP bid?

Following the Government’s ‘Everyone In’ campaign, in 2018 Crisis published the Everyone In: a plan to end homelessness report.  In the report, Crisis lobbied Government for funds to support dispersed supported housing models including Housing First – something, given our own Housing First programme and interest in dispersed housing, we were delighted to see.

When the report was first published, a key goal for SYHA was to work with local authorities across Sheffield City Region to roll out the Housing First model further.  We sent the report to our contacts at each local authority and arranged meetings with them to discuss their appetite for working in partnership with SYHA to help deliver some of the recommendations from Everyone In. 

The Government then launched the Next Steps Accommodation Programme. Although we welcomed it, and the much-needed capital and revenue funding it potentially provided, it was disappointing that the timeframes restricted our ability to deliver any capital projects. Additionally, some of the restrictions in the fund didn’t support models with high fidelity to evidence-based Housing First principles.

By that point, there was growing need and momentum across Sheffield City Region, and we’d built good relationships with the local authorities. Collectively, there was real interest in trying to use the fund to provide the best supported housing solution possible. SYHA therefore decided to join forces with a number of local authorities to support their bids for the first year of the programme. 

Charlotte Murray

What were the outcomes of your Next Steps bids?

We’re now working with four local authorities: Chesterfield, Rotherham, Doncaster and Barnsley. Due to the limitations of the year one funding round, we kept the scale small, but we know from our Housing First work in Rotherham that these partnerships often grow.

In partnership with Chesterfield Borough Council (CBC), we’re providing Housing First to seven people across the Borough.  The service started in October 2020 and will run initially for 12 months.  CBC provides the homes and SYHA provides the support element of the service. In January 2021, CBC confirmed it would like to extend the service and work with an additional seven customers. This has been part-funded through the Next Steps Accommodation Programme and there are aspirations for the service to continue long-term.

Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council (RMBC) has been successful with its bid to the Next Steps Accommodation Programme to provide interim accommodation and support for customers identified as having a low-level mental health diagnosis and who have been displaced as a result of Covid-19.  SYHA will work in partnership with RMBC to deliver ‘Clara Place’, a new homelessness service which will provide a home and support for ten customers.  The service started in November 2020 and will run initially for six months.

Through Next Steps Accommodation funding, our Housing First service in Rotherham, delivered by SYHA and Target Housing for the last three years, has now increased from 25 to 30 customers.

SYHA has an agreement in place with Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council (DMBC) to provide 5-10 properties for Housing First, with the Doncaster Complex Lives team delivering the support.

Finally, we’re also in early talks with Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council about the feasibility of establishing a Housing First service for 10-12 customers across the borough from April 2021.  

What services will the funding deliver?

From SYHA’s perspective, the funding will support a mix of dispersed supported housing, small block housing, and move on accommodation. Working creatively, wherever possible we’ll adhere to the principles of ‘High Housing First Fidelity’, including providing a home for life where we don’t have capital restrictions or can swap properties in and out; providing good choice for customers when selecting a property; and a low ratio of customers to key workers for support.

For future years of the Next Steps Accommodation Programme, we’re seeking to work in partnership with local authorities to bid for capital funding to ensure we can increase the supply of good quality 1- and 2-bedroom homes across Sheffield City Region in the most popular areas.

What are the main challenges of delivering this type of service?

The Next Steps Accommodation Programme has several limitations, such as a maximum stay of two years, rather than a home for life, limited property choice and limited length of revenue funding, making these projects short-term.  We would like to see revised guidance which addresses these issues, and which also helps to ensure the right support is provided to customers, including taking a strength based and trauma informed approach including providing staff and customers with access to a trained counsellor. In future, we would hope to encourage good links with other agencies and providers to ensure holistic support for customers, for example helping them to register with a GP and foodbank, as well as making sure the tenancy is sustainable by providing debt support, furniture packages, and money to start up a home including connected energy services within the property. 

We believe there needs to be a requirement for providers of services to co-produce services with customers affected by homelessness, and the people and organisations which support them.  We would also like to see an end to evictions of customers affected by homelessness.

What were the key learnings around putting together the bids?

Although the timeframes meant the process felt rushed, the Next Steps Accommodation Programme was great in enabling us to collaborate with local authorities to solve a shared problem.

We’d like to provide more homes through the fund, so we’re hoping that the next round will provide longer lead-times that our development team can meet. Finding land is difficult and purchasing secondhand properties has limitations due to supply and the need for future retrofitting to meet the green agenda and EPC standards.

Longer lead times are also critical to ensure good supply of 1- and 2- bedroom dispersed properties, so we can meet demand and offer choice to customers. We’re hoping that there’ll be clear guidance about whether properties can be swapped in and out should a tenant want to stay.

What positives did you take from the process?

The overwhelming positive has been the shift away from shared accommodation and clustered, high-density accommodation for people affected by homelessness, which mirrors SYHA’s own strategic direction. The emphasis on dispersed supported housing has opened up conversations with local authorities for us and we’ve built new, growing partnerships.

Although the Next Steps Accommodation Programme falls short of some of the recommendations in the Crisis report, ‘Everyone In’, and hasn’t yet enabled us to work in partnership with local authorities to deliver high-fidelity Housing First programmes at scale across Sheffield City Region, it is certainly moving the homelessness strategy forward in the right direction.


South Yorkshire Housing Association is a founding member of the Homes for Cathy group and offers safe and secure spaces for homeless people and families to live in.

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.