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Despite the growth of Housing First in England since 2010, we still have a lot to learn about how to deliver the most effective services.

Thanks to funding from Comic Relief, Homeless Link was able to launch the Housing First Fund in 2019 to support five very different Housing First specialist roles.

Today, we launch a new learning report discussing the challenges, successes and key learnings from the five grantees, including:

  1. A Trauma-Informed Counsellor at the South Yorkshire Housing Association;
  2. An Occupational Therapist at St Mungo’s;
  3. A Peer Mentor and Co-Production Development Project Coordinator at Bournemouth Churches Housing Association;
  4. A Specialist Women’s Worker at Brighter Futures; and
  5. A Strategic Partnership Manager at the Single Homeless Project.

The report includes an overview of each of the grantees’ approaches to implementing these new roles and where they found key successes and struggles, in addition to some general recommendations for others interested in similar types of work.

Across our examination of these five grants, we also identified seven broad recommendations. We hope these will help those interested in expanding or diversifying their Housing First offer or those working in other areas of homelessness and support to better meet the needs of those with multiple disadvantage:

1. Resident and staff ‘success’ may be different than anticipated.

It is important for all of us working in Housing First to shift our understanding and pre-conceptions around success. These grants have helped to identify some of the ways that adding specialist services can help Housing First services better identify what ‘success’ can look like for the residents we serve and, in doing so, help us to continue improving the support we can offer.

2. Key links with health services and access to health ‘experts’ who can open doors may have significant benefits.

Health professionals being brought into teams helped to overcome obstacles and increase access to services for Housing First teams and their residents. Staff training to increase health knowledge and expertise also helped improve confidence and knowledge to advocate on behalf of residents’ needs.

3. For services interested in testing or trialling particular approaches, ensure clear hypotheses and tools for measuring change are used.

Identifying a clear hypothesis to be tested and assessed can not only help to ensure correct prioritisation, but it can also help to increase learning and sharing across homelessness and Housing First services. Nonetheless, it is also important that services can be flexible and responsive to unintended or unanticipated benefits (and challenges).

4. While Peer Mentoring and co-production work can provide incredible value, there may be additional challenges in incorporating this work into Housing First services.

Both programmes working to implement a Peer Mentoring programme experienced significant (and different) challenges, including with recruitment due to services’ low ‘graduation’ rates and residents not feeling ready / willing to form a second relationship beyond their current support worker.

5. Systemic challenges – particularly the short-term nature of funding and lack of affordable accommodation, can be incredibly daunting for Housing First services to address.

Grantees cited struggles in work to increase the availability of affordable accommodation and in procuring funding to continue roles into the future. In areas such as these, work to change national and local policy may be a more strategic (and potentially effective) approach.

6. Organisational culture shifts may help all Housing First services ensure that they are welcoming and open to those with lived experiences of homelessness.

Working to address potential organisational culture shifts and incorporate new (or update existing) policies and procedures before any recruitment is done may help to ensure that the value and expertise of those with lived experience can be best utilised across the service.

As these grants have shown, services can experience a range of challenges and opportunities when trying to connect residents with the support that is so badly needed. Housing First in England has come a long way over the past decade and it is clear that specialist roles can play a vital part in providing the holistic, strengths-based support that is needed. We hope that those supporting people experiencing multiple disadvantage and homelessness can apply the lessons explored here in their own work.

You can find out more about each of the programmes and our findings from across the five grants in Introducing specialist roles to Housing First services: Findings from five Housing First grants. And don’t miss our learning event and Q&A summarising the report on Wednesday, 13th July from 10am – 11:15am BST.

Written by

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Dr Trent Grassian

Research Manager

Research Manager