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How Camden is leading fight against homelessness with Housing First programme

PUBLISHED: 14:48 03 January 2019

Wayne, who was housed under the Fulfilling Lives project. Picture: Single Homeless Project

Wayne, who was housed under the Fulfilling Lives project. Picture: Single Homeless Project

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A pioneering housing model founded on the belief that a home is a basic human right is helping 44 people in Camden.

Mark Taylor. Picture: Single Homeless ProjectMark Taylor. Picture: Single Homeless Project

Housing First gives the most vulnerable homeless people a roof over their heads first, rather than on condition that they engage with services or as a reward for doing so.

The belief is that this will give them the platform to recover and rebuild their lives and, alongside the new home, comes intensive support through rehab, other health services and eventually into work.

It is in stark contrast to the existing method of placing people in hostels and giving them targets before having a chance of getting their own home. It is also cost effective, broadly, and eases the strain on emergency services and the NHS.

The idea, born in New York in the 1990s, has proved successful across Europe and Camden was the first borough in the UK to trial the model in 2012.

A person sleeping rough in Camden. Picture: PA/Jonathan BradyA person sleeping rough in Camden. Picture: PA/Jonathan Brady

Many experts, including those at charity St Mungo’s, which runs the current Camden service, say it is not for everyone, but that it is highly effective with the right people.

St Mungo’s was first commissioned to run the borough’s service for 20 people in 2014. That number has grown to 44 thanks to funding from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s Rough Sleeping Initiative. It provides for both homeless people and those at imminent risk of becoming homeless, housing them largely in the private sector.

Housing First was first trialled in the borough in 2012 by Camden and Islington charity Single Homeless Project (SHP), working with the council and other organisations.

Thirteen homeless people with addictions were moved into private-rented housing and given intensive support.

As well as being broadly cheaper than using hostels, evidence showed the pilot should be rolled out further and it was deemed a success.

A further trial by SHP took place five years ago. Housing a handful of people in both Islington and Camden, the Fulfilling Lives programme was also successful.

One of the people housed during Fulfilling Lives was Wayne, 54, who made huge progress once being given a stable home.

“It’s the only scheme I’ve been offered which has been realistic,” he said. “It’s helped me to build my self-esteem and tackle my mental health issues, and it’s acted as a deterrent to stop crime and drugs.

“Having a postcode means you belong. For 35 years, I was just in the way, but I feel like part of society again.”

The government is now backing the rollout of Housing First programmes across the country. Early last year housing secretary James Brokenshire announced a £28million pilot for Greater Manchester, Liverpool and the West Midlands.

That followed calls from the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) for it to be rolled out nationally.

But the lack of homes in general is the obvious problem stopping a larger expansion. Camden’s current project is one of the largest with 44.

Mark Taylor, assistant services director at SHP commissioned the UK’s first Housing First programme in Camden while working for the council. He says the number of people on any programme is unlikely to top Camden’s anytime soon.

“There’s no shortage of will and enthusiasm,” he said. “There’s just a shortage of homes.”

The housing crisis also increases pressure to prove the method’s effectiveness and cost benefit. In Camden there are 5,583 people on the housing waiting list and almost 500 in temporary accommodation.

“Because of the model and the fact we are using a precious resource [housing], there is a pressure to show it works,” Mark continued. “These people have chaotic histories with substance misuse and possibly offending and there’s always a political question of who the homes should be used for.

“But these guys have vulnerabilities and demands and have an impact on communities in terms of their behaviour. They place demand on health services and there is a cost benefit to be looked at. Strategically this is a good way of addressing their needs, by placing them in housing and supporting them. They respond to that.”

Mark emphasised it takes at least 18 months before any real results can be reached. But he points to Finland – which has seen such a huge reduction in rough sleeping thanks to Housing First that it could soon be eradicated – as an example of how successful it can be long-term.

A spokesperson for Camden Council said: “The service complements Camden’s support provision for vulnerable people who are threatened with homelessness or rough sleeping and provides open ended intensive support to people experiencing multiple and severe disadvantage who would otherwise not be able to sustain their own independent accommodation.

“Despite the challenges of securing good quality affordable homes, particularly in the private sector, Camden has witnessed good rates of tenancy sustainment.

“One of the most important aspects of the housing first model is that it recognises that recovery takes time and varies due to an individual’s needs and experiences.”

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