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.

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.