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Is Housing First purely a rough sleeping intervention? This was a question recently tackled in a Centre for Health and Development webinar, and the answer? Well, no, it isn’t.

Housing First is viewed as part of the solution to ending homelessness in England, and this is an accurate interpretation, but it isn’t the whole story. We know from services across the country that the complexity of need for people in Housing First is very high and addressing housing needs is only the beginning.

People in Housing First experience various combinations of:

  • complex and ongoing trauma experiences
  • unmet care and support needs
  • high rates of mental ill-health
  • complex health needs and low mortality
  • high rates of contact with the criminal justice system
  • limited supportive and healthy relationships

Housing First teams do an incredible job of supporting people, and we know that beyond the impressive tenancy sustainment figures of between 70% and 90%, there is evidence to show broader impact, for example reducing drug use, improving quality of life, reducing reoffending and improving mental health. However, this does not happen in isolation and Housing First should not be viewed as an island on which to put people experiencing multiple disadvantages.

For Housing First to work effectively, multi-agency and partnership working is essential. And, taking this a step further, to scale-up and make Housing First in England sustainable, we need to drive the buy-in, advocacy, and involvement of other relevant sectors including health and mental health, social care and criminal justice.

This is often easier said than done, however. Housing First teams have vastly difference experiences in working with colleagues from the other sectors and it has long been felt that more is needed to engage these sectors in Housing First, from inception and funding to running or partnering with local services.

It is time to change the narrative of Housing First. In response to this, Homeless Link are launching two important pieces of work.

Sector-specific guides

We have published five essential Housing First guides for professionals in the criminal justice, health, mental health, social care and substance use sectors. These 7-minute briefings help partners understand:

  • what Housing First is and who it is for
  • why it is relevant to their work
  • the role they play in supporting Housing First teams
  • the relevant support approaches, including trauma-informed care, being strengths-based and harm reduction

You can access the five guides here. The guides can be edited to include details of your own Housing First service and used as a tool to build up relationships and joint working arrangements with your local partners.

Research into longer term impacts of Housing First

Homeless Link is conducting research to provide vital evidence to help strengthen the case for a cross-departmental national Housing First programme. The research will demonstrate the long-term benefits and cost savings across homelessness, health, social care, criminal justice and beyond and is due to be published towards the end of the year. Please keep an eye out for how to get involved – we can only build the evidence base to make the case for change with your support.

We are also looking for Housing First projects that are interested in acting as a case study for this research. If this is you, or you want to find out more about the project, please contact our research manager Sakinah.AbdulAziz@homelesslink.org.uk.

Download the guides