International Learning Experience Dublin 2018

By Alistair MacDermid – Rock Trust Operational Manager (West Lothian)


Having devised and led on the implementation of the UK’s first Housing First for Youth (HF4Y) project in conjunction with our partners Almond Housing Association, I was delighted to be involved in a 2 day event in Dublin aimed at sharing best practice and learning around the intricacies of this innovative model. Along with colleagues from Rock Trust and Almond Housing Association, I was joined by participants from 6 other European countries with a shared vision of changing the way young people with complex needs access their human right to housing.

There’s no guru, no fountain of knowledge, no key speaker with decades of experience to share. Housing First in a youth context is relatively untried and untested. The evidence supporting the model’s success when working with entrenched homeless adults with complex and multiple needs is compelling, but young people come with their own unique set of needs, influenced by their stage in social, psychological and physical development.

Together with equivalent professionals from Ireland, Finland, the Netherlands, England, France and Denmark, we considered how Housing First for Youth projects can be developed in a local context and how we can support each other to influence policy, build evidence and advocate on behalf of some of the most vulnerable in our society.

Facilitated by the Housing First Europe Hub this event marked a significant step on the path to agreeing a consistent approach in the implementation and evaluation of HF4Y models across Europe.  Much of the discussion stemmed from the 5 core principles of HF4Y which have been devised by Stephen Gaetz of the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness with contributions from across the globe, including input from the Rock Trust.

The core principles of HF4Y:

  1. A right to housing with no preconditions
  2. Youth choice, youth voice and self-determination
  3. Positive youth development and wellness orientation
  4. Individualized, client-driven support with no time limits
  5. Social inclusion and community integration

Throughout my 2 days in Dublin I was being challenged to consider the extent to which our newly launched project in West Lothian stays true to the principles above. So what did I learn?

The bigger picture

In the midst of day to day service delivery, it can be easy to forget the bigger picture – that many of the young people we support have suffered violations of their most basic human rights. As a society we should, and must, do more. As a group of individuals and organisations who advocate for young people, we must use our power to influence decision makers and remind them of their obligations under human rights treaties. Housing First projects are an effective means of supporting young people to realise some basic human rights that are too often placed behind a barrage of insurmountable hurdles.

Relationships are key

Rock Trust have followed this belief for many years, but the Housing First for Youth framework allows us to take this a step further. Lower caseloads and a ‘whatever it takes’ philosophy places greater emphasis on understanding where the young person has come from in order to shape the way that we as an organisation engage with them. Inputs and discussion around Psychologically Informed Environments and Trauma Informed Care highlighted the impact of negative or chaotic early years experiences and how the Housing First for Youth framework can play a part in alleviating some of the effects by providing a permanent, secure base, both in terms of a home and non-time-limited, strengths-based support.


We were very fortunate to have a video link input from Deborah Quilgars, a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Housing Policy in the University of York. In conjunction with Feantsa and Rock Trust, Deborah is devising an evaluation framework which we hope will ensure that Housing First for Youth projects across Europe can demonstrate impact and compare and contrast data, so that the value of this model is widely recognised. In this way we can ensure the Rock Trust do not remain the only organisation in the UK delivering this service for young people.


I’d like to add, that as well as benefiting from the sharing of best practice and learning, during the 2 days we spent in Dublin, I was particularly struck by the individual qualities of the attendees. Regardless of local context, environmental or legislative barriers faced, the passion and dedication of the participants to improve the lives of vulnerable young people was truly inspiring. It made me even more confident that in embracing new and innovative models and practice like Housing First, we really do have the chance to be agents of change. In this way we can support our young people to build better, brighter futures, and in doing so, end youth homelessness for good.