Housing First: it’s all about relationships
Sometimes we wonder if the term Housing First is fit for purpose or just a bit of a problem! It is often misinterpreted, which leads some to avoid the approach entirely seeing it as too risky because ‘it’s not ok to put people in flats without support’. In other cases it leads colleagues to rush into providing tenancies to vulnerable people who might then be left wondering why it is not be working out as the evidence suggests it should.
The truth is, while finding a home is prioritised before other needs are addressed, it is not really the first step of the intervention and it certainly is not the only contributor to success. As we know from other approaches, like psychologically and trauma informed services, the thing that makes the difference in Housing First is how the people involved relate to and work with each other.
It is that simple! People who are severely traumatised and repeatedly let down by services are not going to be ‘fixed’ just by having a home. Relationships heal trauma and relationships help people to grow. Nobody reaches their full potential alone; we all need someone to support us to develop emotional and psychological security.
The problem is, although relationships take time to build this is rarely seen as an important stage in the process. We are so used to monitoring very tangible outcomes that we rarely consider how or why we have been able to achieve them. Housing First is, and should be, changing that. People who are deeply mistrustful need support workers with the time, patience and skills to slowly and compassionately journey alongside them.
Today we publish two new pieces of research that provide further insight into the importance of Housing First support teams, how the support they provide broadly changes over time and how the presence of Housing First improves experiences of staff working in other services.
In-depth interviews and journey mapping were undertaken with 16 residents accessing Housing First across England for our support journeys research. We learned about the times in which the support is most intensive, and why, for some, its open-ended nature is crucial.
We also learned that Housing First has a positive impact on communities through qualitative research we conducted with staff from the criminal justice, health and wider homelessness sectors. Having the time to build relationships was noted as both improving engagement and inadvertently reducing pressure on other services.
The key principles underpinning Housing First mean that, coincidentally, it is highly attuned to psychologically and trauma informed practices that place relationships, safety and empowerment at their core.
So if Housing First is done right and people really understand what the approach is before embarking on establishing services, we will see more positive changes over time. Typically, desired outcomes might take longer to achieve but investing in relationships is totally worth it. We do not really have any other option if we want to support people to recover from repeat homelessness and all the things that come along with that.
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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.