Housing associations helping to end homelessness

Bekah Ryder, 02 December 2020

The coronavirus outbreak has demonstrated that we can act fast to address homelessness if there is a collective will and strong leadership from the government.

There are various models to address homelessness, but one used increasingly in England is Housing First. This model provides permanent housing and open-ended, flexible support for individuals with complex needs, who often have long-term experience of homelessness. It differs from traditional homelessness services because the housing and support are not conditional. Instead, Housing First provides a stable home from which to address other support issues.

Although there has been some research on the success of the model[1] and its implementation in England[2], there is nothing substantive from the perspective of housing associations. This is significant as housing associations can be key delivery partners of Housing First, providing much needed, permanent homes for individuals in need.

We recently conducted some research to understand the experiences of social housing landlords delivering Housing First. We interviewed representatives from eight housing associations about their set up and delivery of Housing First, and key challenges and successes as a result.

Our research revealed that the participants were keen advocates of the Housing First model. As well as the success of helping clients maintain tenancies, they spoke with pride about housing some of the most vulnerable in society and the collaborative approach between commissioners, housing providers and support providers. For housing providers, the biggest difference in the model was the availability of fully funded, wraparound support. This made it much easier to manage tenancies and help their clients to sustain them.

The housing associations we spoke to were keen to be key partners alongside commissioners and support providers to deliver Housing First. They emphasised how important it was to be involved in developing the service from the outset, as commissioners and support providers could listen and respond to the housing association’s queries. In turn the housing associations were able to adapt their standard processes to better support the clients.

Overall, the participants felt the model really worked, although there were challenges, such as the time needed to build effective partnership working, finding suitable properties and restrictions from nomination agreements. Despite these challenges, the housing associations we spoke to were very positive about their experience of Housing First and looked forward to expanding their involvement.

[1] Housing First Europe Hub, Housing First Guide: What is Housing First, 1.4. The Evidence for Housing First  

[2] Housing First England, Understanding the implementation of Housing First in England, November 2018