What happens when you dare to think differently about homelessness?

With entrenched problems like homelessness, it can be easy to become despondent, but as a sector who provide homes for those who need them most, it’s vital that we don’t.

Charlotte Murray is Director of Care, Health and Wellbeing at South Yorkshire Housing Association

Charlotte Murray is Director of Care, Health and Wellbeing at South Yorkshire Housing Association

24 July 2019

Figures from Crisis put the number of rough sleepers on the streets at more than 12,000 people – with the same number sleeping in tents, cars, sheds, or buses.

Sometimes the challenge of addressing rough sleeping seems so impossible that it’s hard to imagine how we can ever break the cycle. 

Currently, we’re conditioned to see housing as a ‘reward for good behaviour’ for people who abide by the rules society lays down. For rough sleepers with multiple and complex challenges – including mental health issues, poor physical health, criminal records and substance misuse – this creates a Catch 22 situation. Without safety, stability and support, it’s hard to cope with the challenges which have led to rough sleeping.

Evidence points to solutions – with regular, consistent, relationship-centred support at their heart. But in an age of austerity, these solutions can be perceived as too expensive or difficult to implement.

What’s different about Housing First?

The Housing First approach dares to think differently. It’s an internationally evidence-based model for addressing homelessness – which turns traditional thinking on its head.

Housing First is built on the principle that housing is a basic human right.  It puts permanent housing for people sleeping rough first, before everything else, as the foundation on which to build.

(Image credit: KRCB Radio)

South Yorkshire Housing Association is one of a small number of organisations managing Housing First schemes in the UK. In partnership with Target Housing and Rotherham Borough Council, we’re providing homes and support for 20 previously homeless people across Rotherham - including Dean and Keeley, featured in this video

Individuals aren’t asked to progress through treatment services or move through shared accommodation services first. The only ask is a willingness to maintain a tenancy agreement.

Bricks and mortar are just the first step; Housing First also offers open-ended personalised support from keyworkers and neighbourhood teams for as long as the person wants it. As Dean, who features in the video says: “Since being with Housing First, I’ve got things to look forward to and get up for. I haven’t been on drugs at all since February this year. I just take every day as it comes and try and keep busy and look forward to the future.”

It’s still early days for us - the project began last year as a 12-month pilot – but already we’re witnessing positive impacts and the contract has been extended for two further years. We’re seeing evidence including:

  • improved levels of mental wellbeing
  • reduced levels of substance misuse
  • reductions in unplanned medical care, with an increase in primary care use
  • some reduction in criminal and antisocial behaviour
  • high retention rates (19 of the 20 people have sustained their tenancy for over 12 months). 

Homeless Link have evaluated the pilot and confirmed that it complies with Housing First principles.

There are challenges along the way, not least accessing the right properties and level of mental health support required to address some of the deep-rooted trauma that customers have experienced. But we’re positive that Housing First can be a life changing solution.

To find out more, watch the Rotherham Housing First video or contact Charlotte c.murray@syha.co.uk 

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