Now is the time for a national Housing First programme
The Government recognises that Housing First is a cost-effective way of ending rough sleeping for this group. It has invested £28 million in three large-scale city region Housing First pilots, funded a number of small-scale services through the Rough Sleeping Initiative (RSI) and, in its 2019 manifesto, committed to expanding provision further. Around 2,000 Housing First places are now available across England, providing unconditional access to settled housing and intensive, person-centred support.
While recent growth in provision is welcome, it falls well short of what’s needed. At least 16,500 people are experiencing the combination of homelessness, serious mental health issues, drug or alcohol dependency and offending behaviour that mean they would be eligible for Housing First. As the recent National Audit Office report made clear, some of those helped by ‘Everyone In’ have already returned to the streets and many more are at risk of rough sleeping. This will include many of those in the Housing First client group. If Government is to meet its target of ending homelessness by 2024, it needs to act now to scale up.
What needs to change?
Drawing on the learning from other countries that have scaled up Housing First, as well as from the city region pilots, our report maps out the steps Government should take to expand Housing First provision. We’ve identified three key areas for change.
Firstly, sustainable funding for support. We’re calling for a cross-departmental budget of £451 million over three years, to deliver 16,450 places as part of the first phase of a long term programme and map out a vision for longer term funding. Housing First spending is cost effective. Our cautious estimate is that the programme would deliver cost reductions of £1.56 for every £1 spent.
Secondly increased housing supply. Government must bring forward and refocus the Affordable Housing Progamme to scale up delivery of social rented housing. In order not to displace wider need, the number of Housing First clients moving into one-bedroom social rent flats should be matched by additional provision. There should be an increased role for the private rented sector too through social lettings agencies. Targeted investment in the benefits system to address the barriers caused by the benefit cap and LHA limits is also essential.
Finally, effective national stewardship. The expansion of Housing First must not be treated as business as usual. To safeguard investment and ensure services are sustainable in the long-term, we need:
- A shared vision for Housing First grounded in a high fidelity approach, with a standardised framework for quality assurance and monitoring outcomes.
- Effective cross-departmental and multi-agency working at national and local level ensuring that people no longer fall through the gaps between services, and that successful delivery of Housing First becomes a shared endeavour that transforms lives.
- Adequate time for set up and mobilisation, enabling local agencies to put in place the partnerships, staffing and operational systems that are key to effective delivery, including time to ensure people with lived experience are involved in the co-design of services.
The Coronavirus pandemic has had a profound impact on our society and economy. In highlighting the vulnerability of people sleeping rough, it has prompted an unprecedented mobilisation of resources to provide safe shelter and health care and has saved hundreds of lives. But as we approach the Government’s 2024 deadline for ending rough sleeping, many of those with the most complex support needs have returned to the streets or remain at risk of rough sleeping. Now is the time to build on the momentum of Everyone In, the RSI and the city-region pilots, and realise the benefits of a national Housing First programme.
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Sarah Rowe is a Senior Researcher at the Centre for Social Justice.