On Tuesday 21st January, we hosted a Housing First Workshop, in what will hopefully prove to be an important first step in establishing a high-fidelity Housing First service model in Southend-on-Sea.
Housing First is a homelessness solution that differs from traditional service models by making an unconditional offer of a tenancy away from traditional shelters or multi-occupancy houses, and by providing intense and unconditional support for as long as the service user needs it.
The model differs from HARP’s existing approach in that the case load of service users to support staff is much smaller, enabling more intensive support.
Whilst no service model is suitable for all people experiencing homelessness, it is recognised that the Housing First model can work particularly well with entrenched, long-term rough sleepers, who have previously struggled to adapt to life in shared accommodation.
The evidence suggests that by adopting a Housing First approach, previously hard-to-reach people can thrive, whilst delivering a saving to the public purse through fewer instances of antisocial behaviour, police and ambulance call outs, hospital admissions and reduced offending.
A total of 35 individuals including senior representatives from Southend-on-Sea Borough Council, NHS Integrated Commissioning Team, the Government’s Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, Thurrock Council, Homeless Link, Estuary Housing Association, Peabody Trust, the Police, the Probation Service, SAVS, Southend BID, STARS, MIND and HARP held constructive discussions on how to overcome the various barriers involved in launching a Housing First pilot in Southend, including the high cost of local rental accommodation.
The aim is for a similar group of people to come together regularly in future as a Homelessness Forum, to work together to seek to overcome homelessness more generally across Southend.
Whilst some existing services in the town have adopted elements of Housing First, no single project has yet adhered to all seven of the Housing First Fundamental Principles.
Jackie Bliss, HARP’s Chief Executive, said: “We urgently need to look at innovative solutions to help harder-to-reach homeless people in Southend. Housing First offers a potential solution to some of our town’s most chronic, life-threatening cases of homelessness, and at HARP we are proud to be leading the effort to launch Housing First in the town. We hope that Tuesday’s workshop is a vital first step in delivering Housing First in the local area, and we recognise that achieving this ambition will only be possible through a collaborative, multi-agency approach. We are extremely grateful to Estuary Housing Association for being the first local housing provider to offer some of its accommodation for our planned Housing First pilot.”
Ian Martin, Estuary Housing Association’s Chief Executive, said: “There is strong evidence that the Housing First model not only benefits people who are hard to reach by traditional methods, but has a positive impact on the wider local community. Estuary is proud to support this initiative as part of our social purpose and our on-going commitment to Southend.”
Cllr Ian Gilbert, leader of the council with a responsibility for housing, said: “Everyone should have a warm, safe place to stay, but every person’s story is different and the reasons why a person might be sleeping rough or homeless is often complex. I believe that the 'Housing First' model offers us a way forward to help those people who are hardest to reach, and I am delighted to see HARP able to progress this project. We will offer HARP all practical support and continue our strong partnership working to provide a range of services to help people who are homeless.”
To find out more about Housing First, visit the Housing First England website.