Changing Lives, in partnership with a range of specialist agencies and organisations, has led ground-breaking research on long-term homelessness in the UK. The research shows that the Housing First approach in tackling long-term homelessness in England, can potentially reduce the number of people who are homeless, whilst providing significant cost savings.

Carried out by one of Europe’s leading authorities on the sector, the Centre for Housing Policy, University of York, the study reviewed nine providers of the Housing First services from across the country.

  • The research is based on 60 service users who are homeless and have complex needs and who on average have been homeless for fourteen years
  • The bulk of service users, 78% were housed as at December 2014
  • 59 service users had been successfully housed for one year or more by five of the Housing First services, equivalent to 74% of the current users of these five services
  • Service users also noted improved physical and mental health with 43% of users reporting very bad or bad physical health a year before using Housing First.  This figure fell to 28% when service users were asked about their current health
  • 25% of service users reported monthly or more regular contact with family prior to Housing First and this increased to 50% after being in the Housing First programme

The Housing First model which helps people straight from living on the streets, or who are caught up in a cycle of hostels, sofa surfing, prison or hospital into their own permanent accommodation was developed in the United States has demonstrated high degrees of success in both housing and supporting those who are in a cycle of being chronically street homeless and who have multiple and complex needs.

In the UK, the first Housing First pilot was set up in 2010 in Glasgow, followed by pilots in London and Newcastle in 2012 and based on the principle of housing being a basic human right and providing permanent accommodation for people straight from the street or those who have experienced repeated homelessness.  The approach which is client-led does not require people to address their wider social care and support needs, either prior to or whilst in their long term accommodation though intensive support is given to meet the terms of their tenancy agreement.

There are high levels of successes demonstrated in the Housing First programme, specifically around reducing sustained homelessness of people with complex needs. The approach is based on the concept that a homeless individual’s primary need is to obtain stable housing, other issues are more easily addressed once this is in place and therefore a more positive contribution is made to society and local communities.

Stephen Bell, CEO of Changing Lives commented: “The research also showed there was a potential in the reduction of the use of the emergency medical services as well as the criminal justice system with possible savings on public expenditure at significant levels and in excess of £15,000 a year per person being supported.

“Housing First is not a panacea and shouldn’t replace existing homelessness services as there are other ways in which long-term homelessness can be reduced.  However, Housing First is designed to end some forms of homelessness and the model, which is cost effective, could potentially influence homelessness service design through integration into current service systems.”

Housing First is designed to promote gains in health and well-being, both by creating a stable foundation on which someone can start to move away from the experience and effects of homelessness and through ensuring that support and care is available when requested.

Michael Parker, a Housing First service user from London commented: “I’m 43 now and I’ve never had my own place, so it’s a first for me and I like it.  Hopefully I don’t mess up.  I’ve got no intentions of getting in arrears.”

Stephen Bell went on to say: “Evidence from a wide range of countries shows that Housing First is a cost effective way of meeting the needs of people who experience chronic homelessness. The model has proven success in America, Canada, France, Denmark, Holland, Scotland and Portugal and this research paves the way for a European approach.

“Our conclusion is for commissioners to fund Housing First on a long term basis so that the small number of people for whom the mainstream homelessness system does not work, are not left to languish in a long term cycle of homelessness and chaotic lives,” he concluded.

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