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Opinion

Six months into Housing First: what we’ve learned

Steph Dutton, Community Investment Team Leader at Abri, celebrates six months since the launch of the Housing First homelessness sheme.

In a recent report about three pilot schemes for Housing First, facilitators noted one of the biggest stumbling blocks to rolling out the programme more widely: finding and providing suitable housing.

But this isn’t the only challenge, and those who don’t work in the sector can be forgiven for thinking the sole answer to ending homelessness is indeed to provide someone with a home. That is of course the first step, but not the only.

In September 2020 we launched our own Housing First pilot as part of a wider homelessness scheme. Located in Bristol, we worked closely with our partners at Bristol City Council and Golden Key to allocate suitable homes and provide a package of wraparound support that would (we hoped) lead to sustained tenancies.

Golden Key have been integral to the rollout of this project, providing tailored support packages to residents. They have an ambition to change lives while also influencing wider change – both of which they’re succeeding in.

Six months in, the project has not been without its challenges, but residents are still in their homes. That in itself is a small but very meaningful win. A resident, who wishes to remain anonymous, said:

“Abri are the first housing association that have offered me this. The staff are nice, the house is nice and I love the area. I feel really happy and independent. I do not ever want to leave my home or change anything about it.”

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How is re-housing achieved long-term? There is certainly more to it than finding a suitable property.

In December 2020 we hosted a roundtable on homelessness prevention and strategies for the future. We were joined by Chair of Shelter, Helen Baker, and likeminded others who are all playing their part in eradicating homelessness; much insight was shared into how we can make this happen sooner. The overwhelming message was that partnership working is imperative and, often, critical to succeeding in providing sustainable housing solutions.

We recognise this first-hand. Our homelessness project in Bristol could not have got off the ground if it wasn’t a collaborative meeting of minds between ourselves, Bristol City Council and Golden Key. And this goes beyond simply offering people homes and then moving on. We’ve made a combined pledge to support the people we’ve housed. It’s only when we continue to work together that we can start to see real, positive change.

Providing wraparound support is often essential

While this project is still very much in its early days, we’ve already learned a lot. Building trust with residents is absolutely key, as is meeting regularly with our partners to review the programme and see what’s working and what’s not. The people heading up the programme also need to be experts in what they do, too. This was noted in the latest government report and echoed by our team who lead our project in Bristol.

Golden Key are providing tailored packages of support to residents, our partners at the council are sharing their knowledge of the city and climate and our team are lending their insight into community investment and wider housing landscape. These things combined can lead to a successful homeless programme with lasting outcomes.

Alongside providing a home, connecting residents to accessible support is also an important part to schemes like this. We’ve addressed lots of issues already, including anti-social behaviour, and have setup a working group to find solutions with a steer from those living there. At this group we’re supported by local police, street intervention workers and social services who all lend their expertise to find ways of overcoming these challenges.

By meeting regularly and involving the resident at each step we hope to provide long-lasting change that benefits residents and keeps them in their home.

Aiming for long-term success not short-term fixes

Our goal for this project is to make it possible for residents to stay in their homes. This isn’t about ending homelessness for them temporarily, but rather helping them to take that first step – finding a suitable home, providing additional support – that then leads to long-term security away from rough sleeping.

One of the ways we sought to achieve this is by offering residents a grant to help them with buying household items. One of the biggest issues people face when they’re first offered housing is the inability to buy the necessities they need. By lending a helping hand we hoped to mitigate this issue and smooth the transition for residents.

On a much simpler but no less important level we’ve seen a resident become friends with their neighbour. That sense of community cohesion, of getting to know those who live nearby, feeds into a happy, healthy home life. We hope to see more of this as the programme goes on.

We certainly don’t have all the answers, but we’re learning as we go. And six months in we’re seeing good results that are enhancing people’s lives and life-chances.

Steph Dutton is community investment team leader at Abri

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