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.

‘Branching Out’ will light the way for Housing First in Scotland

Branching Out: The National Framework for organisations and sectors starting or scaling up Housing First in Scotland, has been launched at Scotland’s Housing First conference. The 100-page guide endorsed by the Scottish Government and COSLA lends its title to the online event.

The highly detailed yet easy-to-navigate guide sets out the context in which Housing First will be successfully delivered and draws on learning from existing programmes such as the Housing First Pathfinder. It is a ‘how to and why’ guide to planning, commissioning and delivering the approach locally and nationally covering community justice, housing and social care issues as well as local and national government.

Kevin Stewart MSP, Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning in the Scottish Government, said:

“I believe the publication of this National Framework marks a significant milestone in the further scaling up of Housing First across Scotland. The Housing First model may have some differences in different localities, but the publication of this National Framework provides a solid foundation on which to build future delivery of the model across the country in a consistent way.

“I would like to extend my thanks to Homeless Network Scotland for their hard work in bringing together this important document. I would also like to thank all of those that have contributed to both the consultation which informed its content and to the implementation to date of Housing First across Scotland, including through the Pathfinder programme.”

Cllr Kelly Parry, COSLA Community Wellbeing Spokesperson, said:

“The publication of the framework is a significant milestone in our shift towards an evidence-based system with integrated services and a rights based, person-centred approach to housing and homelessness. I am grateful to those with lived experience of homelessness who have helped develop this through sharing their views and expertise.

“We know that homelessness is often the consequence of a combination and culmination of structural and individual factors, such as poverty, ill health and wider societal inequalities. And we know that preventing homelessness and mitigating the impact on the health and wellbeing of those people experiencing homelessness, requires a partnership approach.”

Martin Armstrong Chief Executive, Wheatley Group, said:

“We are proud to be one of the founding partners of Scotland’s Housing First approach. There is no doubt that Housing First is effective and we are delighted to see it becoming an integral part of social policy in Scotland. We will go on playing our part – with partners, such as Scottish Government and local authorities – and hope this new national framework will encourage others to do so too”.

John Mills Chair of ALACHO and the Rapid Rehousing Transition Plans sub-group of the Scottish Government Homelessness Prevention and Strategy Group, said:

“I welcome the publication of the Housing First National Framework to guide the scaling up of the provision of Housing First tenancies in Scotland. Housing First is now confirmed as a core element of all Rapid Rehousing Transition Plans to assist homeless and potentially homeless people access secure tenancies with wrap-around support to sustain their tenancies.“

Sally Thomas Chief Executive, Scottish Federation of Housing Associations, said:

“SFHA is delighted to support the publication of the Housing First National Framework, which has been informed by consultation with our members as well as our strategic partnership with Homeless Network Scotland. Housing First has quite rightly been recognised as a key mechanism for delivering many of the ambitions set out in the Scottish Government’s Ending Homelessness Together and Housing to 2040 strategies and I know this National Framework will be a key resource for Scotland’s housing associations and co-operatives as they look to ensure everyone in Scotland has a safe, warm, affordable home.”

Maggie Brünjes, Chief Executive of Homeless Network Scotland, said:

“Housing First is a national challenge to redress the unfairness faced by people whose homelessness is made much harder by experiences with trauma, addictions and mental health. This National Framework draws from the learning of what’s gone before and underpins the task that lies ahead. It combines a practical framework for local partnerships, with a strategic oversight of progress toward achieving the best conditions and resources for Housing First to flourish.”

Every vote is a vote for Housing First

Votes cast for one of the Holyrood parties in May’s Scottish Parliament election will be votes to help end homelessness for people with the toughest experiences.

Going into the election, all the Holyrood parties are backing a policy called Housing First, which international evidence, and experience in Scotland, proves is an effective method of ending homelessness for people with experiences such as trauma, abuse, addictions and mental ill health.

The policy has been running in six areas across Scotland since 2019 with the support of the Scottish Government. From April, it is set to roll out across most council areas and is the focus of our online conference taking place next week.

The approach provides normal, settled housing for people as quickly as possible rather than at the end of a long process that often fails to prevent or end homelessness and includes a support package tailored to the individual. Across the  Pathfinder areas there have been no evictions in the current programme out of 450 tenancies, with around 90% of those who started a tenancy remaining in their home.

Maggie Brünjes, Chief Executive of Homeless Network Scotland, said:

“At least 8% of the Scottish population has experienced homelessness at some point in their lives. But we are not all at equal risk. Poverty is the main driver, and it is also linked to experiences going right back to childhood. Housing First should be the first response for everyone whose housing need is made much harder by trauma, addictions and mental health problems.”

“Housing First has rightly earned cross-party support and has also earned a long-term commitment from Scottish Government in the 20-year strategy for housing published this week. Why? Because it works. What has been achieved in Scotland is viewed as pacesetting by UK and international colleagues – but it wasn’t easy and this is just the start. Now we need the right and enduring resources and investment aligned at national and local level.”

Patrick McKay, Operations Director, Turning Point Scotland, said:

“Housing First is normal, it’s fairer and it works. If finding answers to society’s problems is the prize for those in government and opposition alike, then Housing First is a gift. In recent years in Scotland, more so since the pandemic began, resolving homelessness has resulted in increased cooperation and an acknowledgment that solving this problem is not impossible, but will take time.

“Turning Point Scotland helped to pioneer the Housing First model in its Glasgow pilot. Ten years on from that project we are ready to get behind the national challenge and help make Housing First a reality as a leading provider of support services.”

Professor Sarah Johnsen, of I-SPHERE, an award-winning research team at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, said:

“To my mind, Housing First works because of four key ingredients. Firstly, by offering long-term security of tenure and support it offers a stable platform, freeing up headspace for residents to think about things other than ‘what happens next?’ housing-wise. Second, the support is truly flexible, changing in type, intensity, how and where it’s delivered as needed. Third, is sticks with people, even after periods of disengagement or blips in recovery, which would typically result in exclusion from other services.  Finally, it offers a normal home in an ordinary neighbourhood, with respite from the stigma and potential harms associated with many homeless service settings such as hostels and shelters.”

The Housing First Scotland Conference titled ‘Branching Out’ takes place on Tuesday 23 and Wednesday 24 March hosted by Homeless Network Scotland in partnership with Wheatley Group. The conference is an opportunity to hear directly from those responsible for Scottish Government homelessness policy, including an address by Kevin Stewart MSP, Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning and Angela Constance, the Minister for Drug Policy as well as sector leaders across a day-and-a-half of activities and interactive sessions on three themes.

  1. Firm Foundations: Housing First as an integrated policy priority with shared financial commitment, and shared outcomes. This theme includes the launch of the National Framework for Housing First in Scotland.
  2. Olive Branches: Successful local partnerships are central to the success of the Pathfinder. Learn how local Housing First partnerships have been formed, how they function, why they work and what aspects have been more challenging.
  3. Low & High Hanging Fruit: in theme three we explore the practical lessons learned, the early successes, and some of the growing pains. This theme will help us grow, improve and connect Housing First as it starts up in most Scottish council areas during 2021.

View the conference programme and speakers by clicking here or book a place at one, or all, of the sessions by clicking here.

It’s no error – Housing First Pathfinder hits 404

The first data on Scotland’s Housing First Pathfinder since the start of the year indicates the programme continued to scale up despite Covid restrictions. The total tenancies created by Scotland’s Housing First Pathfinder up to 31 December 2020 was 404, with an additional 22 added that month.

The key indicator of ‘tenancy sustainment’, which shows how many people kept their tenancy, remains high over the full first year of the Pathfinder, this month showing 88 per cent. This compares favourably to USA and European examples.

Housing First provides ordinary housing as a first step rather than at the end of a process that often fails to prevent or end homelessness. It includes a support package tailored to the individual and is proven to be a better and more lasting response for people with experiences such as trauma, abuse, addictions and mental ill health who experience homelessness. 

Returns for December show that Glasgow, the city with the highest number of homelessness applications in Scotland, hit the significant 150 tenancies milestone. Aberdeen / Aberdeenshire stands at 80, with the highest percentage of people remaining in their home at 93 per cent. In Dundee, the number of tenancies is 64, more than half their target; Edinburgh has 92 and Stirling 11, over halfway towards its target of 20.

Sir Andrew Cubie, Chair of the Housing First Scotland Advisory Group, said:

“This hugely significant milestone is wonderful news, coming as it does after such a challenging year. Through continued successful partnerships across the Pathfinder areas, and in defiance of the virus and its impact on normal life, more than 400 people have now moved into a safe, secure home of their own.

“The excellent support that is in place has resulted in a high number remaining in their home, and still no evictions have taken place from tenancies created through the programme. As Housing First takes root in local authority areas across Scotland the learning and experience accrued by Pathfinder areas will, I believe, prove immensely important in the months and years ahead.”

Doug Gibson, Programme Manager for the Housing First Pathfinder at Homeless Network Scotland, said:

“Local consortia across the Pathfinder continue to offer Housing First support to people under incredibly difficult circumstances. Sometimes this is delivered remotely, other times by socially distanced meeting outdoors, but the importance of remaining ‘alongside’ tenants is uppermost in the minds of support workers and the teams providing services and advice. As Housing First rolls out across Scotland this year, people with the toughest experiences who have yet to move out of homelessness know there is a resilient, sustainable way forward that lets people build and live their lives in a home of their own.”

Scotland: Have Your Say on Housing First

UPDATE: Consultation period has now ended.

A 90-page National Framework for Housing First in Scotland opened for consultation in November 2020. It is a ‘how to and why’ professional guide, setting out what each partner brings, and what each will need in order to make Housing First a success in all parts of the country from 2021.

Housing First provides ordinary, settled housing as a first response to redress the disadvantages faced by people whose homelessness is made harder by longer-term experiences such as trauma and addiction. The evidence base for Housing First is far stronger than for any other intervention for a group of people who have traditionally been poorly served by what is available to them.

Pathfinders in Aberdeen/shire, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Stirling launched fully in 2019. These local partnerships were tasked with exposing the challenges and difficulties encountered in scaling up Housing First across a local authority area, and to share that learning.

Homeless Network Scotland has drafted the Framework, with support from expert advisors from across national and local government, housing and support providers and the Pathfinders.

Maggie Brünjes, Chief executive at Homeless Network Scotland, said:

“Scotland is on a mission to scale up Housing First. It has cross-party support and a Pathfinder that has been guided expertly by the Scottish Government, councils and local providers. With scrutiny of local systems and processes by different sectors working in partnership, more people are being housed and supported more quickly.”

“What has been achieved in Scotland is viewed as pace-setting by international colleagues – but it wasn’t easy and this is just the start. If we really mean business it calls for a 10-year vision from politicians, housing providers and support services – an enduring commitment to create the right conditions for Housing First to flourish. This means the right investment, access to housing and delivered in a joined-up way with broader health and social care partnerships.”

International experience highlights Housing First as a catalyst for broader improvements in local housing and homelessness systems and this has been the early experience of the Housing First Pathfinders. Around 90% of tenants remain in their homes and a growing number are celebrating two years or more at home, with no evictions from the programme.

The National Framework draws from that learning and is designed for all organisations and sectors starting or scaling up Housing First in Scotland. It sets out the context in which the approach can be successfully delivered, and should act as a guide to planning, commissioning and implementing the approach. Importantly, section seven provides a ‘Live Status Report’, which will monitor progress toward achieving the right conditions for Housing First to be scaled up right across Scotland, in line with local need.

Maggie Brünjes added:

“This is a national challenge to redress the unfairness experienced by people whose homelessness is made harder by experiences such as trauma, addictions and mental ill-health. Each partner brings something unique – but also has a set of expectations of what they need in place to enable them to deliver. We want to hear from all individuals and organisations that have an interest in Housing First, or a role in delivering it.”

The draft National Framework for Housing First is available here.

Please follow @HFScotland for updates and email housingfirst@homelessnetwork.scot to discuss any element of the Framework.