Blog: Whoop-dee-doo Basil, but what does it all mean?
Housing First in the words of Andy Stephenson, Rock Trust Development Co-ordinator
Last week the Rock Trust received the fantastic news that, alongside several other wonderful homeless charities in Edinburgh, we have been awarded funding from the Corra Foundation Housing First Scotland Fund.
This means that a consortium of Edinburgh based charities and social housing associations (Edinburgh Cyrenians, Rock Trust, Turning Point Scotland, Streetwork, Bethany Christian Trust, Gowrie Care and Barony Care) will support up to 56 homeless people with complex needs in Edinburgh to leave homelessness for good.
The Rock Trust will be taking the lead on services for 16-25 year olds, delivering our innovative Housing First for Youth model for up to 17 care leavers in Edinburgh, for whom finding accommodation that meets their needs has so far been unsuccessful, placing them at higher risk of becoming homeless.
We know that jargon is bandied around too often, and we don’t want Housing First to be just another buzzword. It is too important for that. Internationally, Housing First is a model of housing support that has been consistently recognised as an effective way to tackle chronic homelessness since its inception 30 years ago. The reason for this is because Housing First is no flash in the pan, it works!
In essence, Housing First helps long term rough sleepers and those who have become trapped in the homeless system for decades, bouncing from one service to another, leave homelessness for good by providing them with a permanent home.
Their new home is unconditional. They don’t have to engage with support services, stop drinking or stop taking drugs. Research shows us that for people with complex needs (for example addiction combined with mental health issues) they are simply not in a position yet to properly address these issues and jump through hoops to access accommodation, or sustain a tenancy if they are lucky enough to get one. Too often the result is the individual is ejected from their temporary homeless accommodation or feels the need to leave themselves. And then they are back to the beginning.
A permanent home, without pre-conditions, can be the one thing they need to stop returning to homelessness and move forward with their lives.
Alongside a permanent home, Housing First has the following crucial elements:
- Individuals don’t need to engage with support teams or jump through any hoops to keep their home. Those engaged in Housing First tend to take up the additional support offered when they feel ready to make a change in their lives. Making numerous changes at one time can be too much for many people, let alone those with complex needs. Acting with more patience and empathy is key to the success of Housing First.
- The tenancies are not free – this wouldn’t be sustainable. Tenants pay rent for their home, but because of their circumstances, this will almost always be covered by their Housing Benefit, or in the case of young people leaving the care system, it will be covered by their Through care After care support.
- Individuals are given control and choice about how they will live, designing the support they will receive so that it includes activities that are based on their own strengths, goals and aspirations. This means that services are not forced upon them and that individuals are more likely to complete activities because they are invested in them.
- Individuals don’t need to address their behaviours, for example abstain from alcohol, substances or drugs, before they can access support through Housing First. Instead they can work towards reducing their dependency over the course of their lives, and only when they believe they can do it.
- Support workers have what is considered a low case-load, they only work with 5-7 people, giving them more time to provide high intensity, ‘whatever it takes’ support. This is about a quarter of the size of that undertaken by support workers in other models of housing support.
- People living in crisis make ‘mistakes’ more often than those who aren’t. Housing First creates an environment where mistakes can happen without homes being taken away. Only in this way can people with complex problems and more chaotic lives be prevented from becoming homeless again and again.
Hold on, young people are different to those entrenched in the homeless system, so how does Housing First apply to them?
There are many reasons why young people become homeless, from relationships breaking down, unemployment and the effects of living in poverty, living with poor mental health, fleeing unsafe homes or the consequences of abusing alcohol, drugs and substances. Regardless of the situations that lead young people to become homeless, they are plunged into crisis. They do not have the safe and stable foundation they need to lead a happy, healthy independent life.
Many of the young people we work with on a day to day basis are at high risk of becoming entrenched in the homelessness system due to these factors. A Housing First for Youth support model can be a life-changer for young people with more complicated issues, for whom other homelessness services simply haven’t worked. Through unconditional support and building trusting relationships, we can help young people to feel empowered to build a life in their new home and become an active member of their community.
Housing First for Youth in Edinburgh will build on the success of Scotland’s first ever Housing First for Youth model, implemented in West Lothian by the Rock Trust in partnership with Almond Housing Association. Housing First for Youth in West Lothian has seen 100% of young people maintain their tenancies and start to lead independent and stable lives.
The Rock Trust’s mission is to prevent youth homelessness. For us prevention is key. No young person should ever become trapped in the homeless system. That is why we are so passionate about Housing First for Youth and why we think you should be too.