Housing First in England - a look back at the last three years

Thursday, 28 March 2019 - 10:42am

Homeless Link launched our Housing First England project just over three years ago in early 2016. At the time, the model wasn’t widely known or used in England, despite the significant and compelling international evidence base on the effectiveness of the approach. 

The project was developed to grow and support a national movement of Housing First services across England to ensure that it became a key and sustainable part of our solution to ending homelessness. With the number of people who were homeless consistently rising, it seemed all the more important to champion an approach that had been so successful elsewhere.

What have we achieved and how has the picture changed?

To help us assess our achievements after the first three years and decide where to focus our efforts going forward, we commissioned CFE Research to undertake an independent evaluation of the Housing First England project.

Their findings show that there have been substantial changes in the picture of Housing First in this country since 2016. Interest, understanding and acceptance of the approach has grown, and we’ve seen a marked increase in new projects being developed and launched. In May 2018, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) announced three new substantial, Government funded pilot projects in Greater Manchester, Liverpool and the West Midlands, which was the first centralised funding of Housing First in England.

The evaluation showed that there was a broad agreement that the principles developed by Housing First England are the right ones and are needed to deliver a true and effective Housing First project.  It was felt that the intensive and personalised nature of support provided and the emphasis on choice and a home as a human right are integral to success.

The success of the Housing First England project so far has partly been by creating a space where networks can grow, and learning can be shared. By working with our network of service providers, local authorities and other stakeholders, the project is seen as both a credible and authoritative voice in the sector which has enabled us to grow awareness of the approach and legitimise it. This has been recognised in the role we will be playing to assess fidelity to the principles as part of the evaluation of the MHCLG regional programmes.

What next for Housing First England?

Housing First England will be around for a while yet! We are excited to announce that Crisis will be joining Homeless Link to deliver the next phase of the Housing First England project. 

But what is there still to do?

The evaluation showed there’s still a huge amount more to do to grow the uptake of Housing First in England. Our research with Crisis shows that there are at least 18,400 people in England, Wales and Scotland who would benefit from access to a Housing First programme if implemented at scale tomorrow. 16,000 of those are in England. We believe that current capacity of services currently stands at 400 (not including the people being supported by the government-funded regional pilots). There is clearly still a long way to go.

Interviews with providers of Housing First and other stakeholders reveal that the two biggest challenges to the Housing First movement are the availability and quality of affordable housing and the availability of sufficient and long-term funding for support services.

We also know from the evaluation that people in the sector are concerned that Housing First will be seen as the only approach to end homelessness at the detriment of other approaches. We are determined we won’t let that happen and will continue to promote Housing First as one solution amongst a range of others which are necessary to prevent and resolve people’s homelessness.

Amongst other things, from your feedback, we are aiming to:

  • Put a greater emphasis on engaging both private and social landlords to show them how they can play a role in developing Housing First
  • Continue championing the importance of cross-sector involvement to help with sustainable funding
  • Develop a fidelity assessment or audit tool so that services can be sure they’re working to the seven principles
  • Gather and share information about the effectiveness of Housing First for specific sub-groups of people with multiple needs (such as women).

We will continue to be the voice for the sector and won’t stop until we make sure the Housing First approach supports everyone in this country that needs it. Our ambition is cultural and systemic change, backed across government and other stakeholders, which increases investment in housing and solutions to long-term funding for support.

Read the evaluation, undertaken by CFE Research and visit the HFE website www.hfe.homeless.org.uk for more information on Housing First in England.

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Jo Prestidge

Senior Innovation and Good Practice Project Manager (Housing First)

Jo is a senior innovation and good practice project manager, leading the Housing First England project and advocating for Trauma Informed Care.