Housing First Pathfinder interim evaluation report published

Housing First Provision can be successfully scaled up in Scotland according to the country’s first evaluation of Housing First, published today (Wed 22 September) by I-SPHERE at Heriot Watt University. The independent Interim Report commissioned by Corra Foundation with funding from Social Bite uses a combination of data analysis and first-hand testimony from tenants, support providers, local authorities and national stakeholders to present the findings in a 90-page report.  

The main headline finding is that the Pathfinder has been highly effective at supporting people with the sharpest experiences of homelessness to stay in their homes. At the end of June 2021, by which time 531 people had been housed, the Pathfinder had achieved an overall 12-month ‘tenancy sustainment rate’ of 84% and 24-month rate of 82%. 

Professor Sarah Johnsen from I-SPHERE, who co-authored the report with Dr Janice Blenkinsopp also from I-SPHERE in partnership with Matthew Rayment of ICF Consulting, said: 

“The housing retention rates achieved by the Pathfinder to date are particularly impressive given the additional challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic has presented.  Many lessons have been learned regarding what helps and hinders Housing First delivery and these will be invaluable as Pathfinder services are mainstreamed and the approach is rolled out more widely across Scotland.” 

Maggie Brunjes, Chief Executive of Homeless Network Scotland, programme managers for the Housing First Pathfinder, said: 

“Scotland’s Housing First Pathfinder has been the shining light in the homelessness sector for over two years, achieving results in line with international best practice and half of that time during a pandemic. It’s not been easy, and many lessons have been learned, but this interim evaluation demonstrates that Housing First works, and it works thanks to the tenacity of Housing First support workers, political commitment at national and local level, buy in from key housing associations — along with the opportunities created to connect and learn together. And it works because people themselves took a chance on Housing First to end their own experience of homelessness.

“As we head into the final six-months of the pathfinder almost all parts of Scotland are starting up or scaling up Housing First. The Pathfinder has demonstrated that the approach is resilient and sustainable even under the most demanding circumstances, and this is a hugely important legacy. Our thanks to Professor Johnsen and colleagues for producing this detailed, insightful and much anticipated report.” 

This report is the first part of an ongoing evaluation and monitoring programme being undertaken by I-SPHERE at Heriot Watt University. Future evaluation outputs will document learning during later stages of Pathfinder delivery, including during the 2021/2022 transition period when Pathfinder services are being mainstreamed in those local authority areas. 

Housing First Pathfinder passes 500 tenancies

Scotland’s Housing First Pathfinder has created more than 500 tenancies since it launched two years ago, with an additional 25 added in April 2021.

Housing First provides ordinary, settled housing as a first response for people whose homelessness is made harder by experiences such as trauma, addiction and mental ill health. The Pathfinder launched officially in 2019 in Aberdeen / Aberdeenshire, Dundee, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Stirling supported by housing providers and funding from The Merchants House of Glasgow, Scottish Government and Social Bite.

Ewan Aitken, Chief Executive at Cyrenians, which leads the Edinburgh Housing First Consortium, said:

“A home is a fundamental human need – we all need one to build a life and to flourish. Housing First is a truly system-changing approach, built on respect for others, whatever their circumstances. It is one that acknowledges that meeting this fundamental need should come first, rather than supporting someone until they’re ‘housing-ready’ – as had previously been the case, and an impossible task for those from the toughest of realities. Then the building of relationships-based support is what makes the tenancy sustainable, so that people can lead the life they want to lead. 

“At Cyrenians we are privileged  to with work our partners and lead the Housing First Edinburgh Consortium, and play a part in Scotland’s story of Housing First. There is much to be done ahead in building a Scotland that works for everyone, but this incredible milestone is cause for celebration, and a moment to recognise the incredible work of frontline workers and the people they journey with, right across Scotland”

Josh Littlejohn MBE, co-founder of Social Bite, which kick-started the Pathfinder, said:

“It’s amazing to see the Housing First Scotland Pathfinder programme surpass its 500-tenancy milestone, and not only that, but to also see more than 85% of individuals continuing to maintain their tenancy each month makes it an even bigger achievement for everyone involved.

“While the world ground to a halt due to the pandemic, the Pathfinder continued to work tirelessly to ensure people were still being housed, bringing us this incredible result. Social Bite is immensely proud to have played a part in making the pathfinder a reality and it is with special thanks to everyone that supported or took part in the Sleep in the Park campaigns that we are able to celebrate this significant milestone. Long may this vital work continue.”

“Maggie Brünjes, Chief Executive of Homeless Network Scotland, which is Programme Manager for the Pathfinder, said:

“Each milestone reached is achieved by new tenants putting down roots, and the commitment of local authorities, housing and support providers helping that to happen. We are proud that 507 tenancies have been created in the Pathfinder areas and a strong performance in April as we enter year three is encouraging as Housing First starts to scale up across Scotland. The National Framework provides a clear and comprehensive resource to support every partner and sector starting or scaling up Housing First in Scotland and is updated four times a year to keep it current and relevant for everyone.”

The key indicator of ‘tenancy sustainment’, which shows how many people kept their tenancy, remained high throughout the second full year of the Pathfinder, and is 86% per cent for April 2021 as the Programme marks two full years of operation. This compares favourably to international standards. The Pathfinder has now entered its third and final year, as Housing First Scotland sees most local authorities adopt the model as part of their Rapid Rehousing plans.

Housing First branches out from April

Doug Gibson has been involved in the adoption and scaling up of Housing First through his role as programme manager for the Housing First Pathfinder. As the approach extends across most council areas in Scotland starting from this week, he considers how it could help end large scale homelessness for good.

When I visited Finland in early 2020, I was struck by the confidence and pragmatism of this small nation, the only European country where homelessness is falling. It’s hardly surprising that the policy underpinning that success, Housing First, has more and more fans here in Scotland where the policy is well established, and also in the other GB nations and regions.

For decades the problem was viewed as intractable, a stubborn feature of metropolitan life in cities around the world, including those in the richest countries like ours. In attempting to resolve homelessness all manner of schemes and solution were broached and implemented, short of providing people with a home. The alternate approach of the Fins is simple. In 2007 they adopted Housing First as the anchor for a wider political vision to address the toughest experiences of homelessness as part of a rapid rehousing approach.

Finland ‘s enviable record since can be actively attributed to their adoption of the Housing First model, a system pioneered in the USA that is evidence based, compassionate and abandons notions of blame or deserving.  There is now an overwhelming body of international evidence showing that, with close fidelity to the Housing First principles, most tenants are likely to stay housed – and feel benefit in many other ways too.

In Scotland’s Housing First Pathfinder, which operates across five areas, the approach has delivered 87 percent housing retention rates in the first two years of the programme. This statistic – up there with the best international comparisons – tees up a range of benefits for both individuals and society as we begin to mainstream the policy across the country in this, the third and final year of the Pathfinder.

It improves health outcomes and decreases contact with community justice, in turn reducing A&E admissions and improving cost-effectiveness of service delivery. It is replacing chaos with support and temporary accommodation with permanent and there have been no evictions out of more than 450 tenancies created.

Many people who have taken up a tenancy through the programme have typically struggled in life, following adverse childhood experiences, negotiating multiple challenges and obstacles along the way such as trauma, addiction, poor mental health or physical disability and other forms of severe multiple disadvantage.

Estimates suggest that more than 800,000 adults in Scotland have experienced all three of the indicators of severe multiple disadvantage: homelessness, substance dependency and offending. Homelessness is the most common of these when viewed over an adult’s lifetime and a study for the Scottish Government in 2018 states that at least eight percent of the Scottish population had experienced homelessness at some point in their lives. When you consider this percentage also represents the entire population of Scotland within the UK, it is clear why the issue matters to us all.

If finding answers to society’s toughest problems is the prize then Housing First is an attractive, integrated solution. In recent years in Scotland, more so since the pandemic began, resolving homelessness has resulted in regular co-operation and an acknowledgment that solving this problem is not impossible, but will take time. We must trust the evidence that says if we stay the course Scotland could be the other country in Europe where homelessness is falling.