This week, 16 new staff in Merseyside will begin the first phase of a radical new approach to tackling homelessness known as Housing First, as 60 homeless people across the city region are given a settled home. Until now, standard practice has been to move homeless individuals through “levels” of housing, from rough sleeping on the streets then on to public shelters, through to transitional housing programmes, and eventually on to living in their own dwellings in the community. Housing First approaches make provision of guaranteed individual housing the first step in ending street sleeping, as an alternative to emergency shelters or transitional housing.
Last year, homelessness charities reported that street homelessness was up 169 per cent since 2010, which many of the Conservatives’ critics have blamed on policies such as universal credit rollout and cuts to local authority budgets.
Having been awarded £7.7m from central government to fund the pilot, the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, along with Greater Manchester Council (receiving £8m) and the West Midlands Combined Authority (£9.6m), will be one of the first areas for the initiative to be tried and tested in the UK. Following similar schemes in the US and Europe, evidence shows that Housing First strategies are effective in reducing the incidence of rough sleeping and contributing to decreased rates of homelessness. In the US, there have also been positive knock-on effects, including a reduction in chronically homeless individuals using public hospital resources, a reduction in incarceration rates, and significantly improved mental health outcomes.
Steve Rotheram, the first Metro Mayor for Liverpool City Region and former Parliamentary Private Secretary to Jeremy Corbyn, campaigned on a manifesto promise to introduce Housing First initiatives to the city in 2017. “Housing First is based on a simple premise,” he said, “that the first thing homeless people need is a decent place to live. At the same time, we have to ensure that they have the right support to tackle their further needs, which may be compounded by experiences such as trauma, abuse, addictions and mental ill health.”
Under Housing First programmes, health, addiction, employment and related support services are delivered directly to the housing. There are no preconditions for remaining housed such as treatment acceptance or compliance, and so continued tenancy does not depend on participation in these services. Some addiction researchers in the US have criticised Housing First for its failure to address broader outcomes such as substance abuse.