Learning from European Peers

by Michelle Major, Homeless Network Scotland

The Housing First Europe Hub can help organisations, governments, housing providers, and professionals to organize information sessions and training for a wide range of audiences. Within this offer is the annual education programme for Housing First trainers, designed for trainers who want to specialise in Housing First training. The goal is to create a European pool of trainers who are knowledgeable and experienced in Housing First, who are able to design and lead a variety of training modules on aspects of Housing First in countries across Europe and beyond.

I was fortunate to claim a place on the programme, now entering its fourth year, and work with trainers from a number of European countries in three beautiful locations – Berlin, Bologna and Budapest. As well as learning from the trainers and the other participants, we have had the opportunity to learn from teams delivering Housing First in each city.

In Berlin, Housing First is delivered by Neue Chance, and they shared with the group how valuable peer workers are in their context. Rather than having peers deliver Housing First support, Neue Chance employ peer workers as maintenance staff. If there is something to be fixed in a property, the tenant knows that the person coming to do a repair has shared a similar experience and will not cast judgement on their home.

In Bologna, Piazza Grande delivers Housing First and have placed real importance on the interior design of each property that Housing First tenants live in. They talk about “beauty in Housing First” with Housing First tenants working with an interior designer to improve the property and design a space in line with the tenant’s desires. Piazza Grande have found that input from the interior designer motivates tenants to look after their home more than they have in the past. The team from Piazza Grande also sparked an interesting discussion on sexuality and Housing First – for many people this is their first time having a home of their own in a long time, having a private space to express themselves and unlock their sexuality in ways that are just not possible in emergency accommodation or dormitory-style accommodation.

It has been an eye opener to spend time with people working towards the same goal using the same method to end homelessness but all in very different contexts. Often within the group people will say that Scotland and Finland are the closest to achieving the goal of ending homelessness and this is so inspiring, but so is all the learning from other countries. People are working so hard to circumvent difficult policy landscapes and in Scotland we are so lucky to have such strong legislation and policy around homelessness, maybe the time is coming to broaden our thinking, consider the successes from Berlin and Bologna and how they could be implemented in a Scottish context.

The group will come together again in Budapest in October, and I’m sure there will be yet more fascinating discussions and lessons learned that will help us in Scotland to upscale Housing First and deliver an even better, stronger approach to ending homelessness with ordinary homes and excellent support for those who have faced the most challenges in our society.