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Over the next month, every local authority in England will be putting together their submissions for the Government’s Rough Sleeping Initiative (RSI), with this money going a long way to defining each local area’s response to rough sleeping over the next three years. 

In the recent past, it’s fair to say funding for homelessness services across the country has been precarious at best. The last RSI spanned just one year, making it difficult for local authorities to implement long-term solutions to homelessness. When we recently surveyed our members, receiving more than 130 responses, three-quarters agreed that short-term funding has a negative impact on the quality of services they provide.  

Therefore, the fact that the Government has listened to the demands of the sector through allowing local authorities to bid for three years of funding, is a huge opportunity to embed longer-term solutions to homelessness across the country.  

As part of this longer term funding, the Government is encouraging local authorities to consider Housing First. Housing First is a housing led intervention normally targeted at people with a history of rough sleeping and multiple complex needs. Rather than following the ‘staircase model’, where people have to prove they are ready for independent housing, Housing First gives people their own home and intensive, unconditional support to maintain it. It is based on the ethos that people who have experienced significant trauma in their past may require flexible support for as long is needed, helping them to live full and dignified lives. In England, seven core principles define its implementation, with the aim to give people choice and control in where they live, how they engage with the service and their future lives. 

Through the dedication and investment of organisations across the country, Housing First in England has grown hugely in the past decade. These range from large scale services to much smaller operations supporting a handful of people at a time. But research from Homeless Link and Crisis shows that Housing First services still only have capacity to house around 12 per cent of people who could benefit from support. 

To help scale up Housing First in England, we are running three free commissioner Q&A sessions to introduce people to the approach and how best to commission it.  

This is so important as evidence shows Housing First is one of the most effective interventions in ending people’s homelessness. Since 2018, the Government has funded three regional Housing First pilots in the West Midlands, Liverpool and Greater Manchester. The latest evaluation report found that the pilots have housed 534 people with a tenancy sustainment of 87%. This is consistent with research across the world and is quite remarkable when you consider that Housing First is focused on people with multiple and complex needs who are, as a consequence, often considered not ready for their own tenancy.  

Furthermore, Housing First is actually a money saving tool for local systems in the long-term. Recent research from the Centre for Social Justice think thank found that for every £1 spent on Housing First, £1.56 is saved from public budgets. This is through reducing people’s usage of other publicly funded services such as emergency health care, the criminal justice system and drug and alcohol treatment. As Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham said at a recent meeting of the three pilot areas’ mayors - “Housing First is one of the most successful health policies I have ever seen.” 

Local authorities should always commission Housing First as part of a range of services targeted at different levels of need. But our recent research into reducing, changing or ending Housing First support found that “there are huge challenges trying to maintain an open-ended Housing First support model when funding is only in place for a year or two”, with many local authorities understandably choosing to fund emergency measures instead.  

The new  three-year RSI allows councils to be more creative and embed an approach that’s proven across the world to improve the lives of people with a long history of rough sleeping. Meanwhile, for those councils who already commission Housing First, the new funding stream can give them and the people they support certainty that the service will continue to be open ended.  

As one person supported by Housing First in Bradford said on the thought of the service ending: “I don’t even want to go there. I need it. I don’t want it, I need it.” 


Want to hear more about Commissioning Housing First? Sign up for free to one of Homeless Link’s Housing First Commissioner Q&A sessions.