You'd be hard pushed to meet someone who doesn't believe that having a roof over your head - a safe place to call home, is not only a fundamental human right but is essential to creating a society where everyone has the opportunity to reach their potential.
But for 320,000 people in the UK, this kind of security, this level of safety isn’t yet within grasp. In Scotland, charities such as Social Bite are working to change this reality for people affected by homelessness. They are implementing an approach called Housing First. We are talking to you about this because we are raising money for causes just like this one, delivered by Social Bite as our Charity of the Year.
What is Housing First?
First introduced 25 years ago, by Dr Sam Tsemberis who, along with an organisation called Pathways to Housing, pioneered the approach in New York, which showed that better outcomes could be achieved at a lower cost than conventional models. Previously the response to housing had followed a ‘staircase model’. This means, people experiencing homelessness are offered temporary and often shared accommodation as a first response. In Scotland, this normally means a homelessness hostel or B&B.
Often, if someone’s homelessness is compounded by other challenges, such as adverse childhood experiences, mental ill health, or addiction, such accommodation may not be a suitable environment.
An adverse effect of the staircase model is the requirement that people experiencing homelessness prove that they are ‘tenancy ready’, before they can escape the system of unsupportive temporary accommodation. Permanent housing therefore comes in as the last response, framed as a reward to be earned. This fails to recognise that a home of one’s own is a human right and one that is fundamental to building a better life.
Turning the staircase model on its head, the Housing First policy introduced in New York went on to develop a body of evidence which other countries began to build on. Finland in particular has seen great success. This small northern country, with a similar population size to Scotland, has managed to end core homelessness through the national implementation of Housing First.
Is Housing First an option in Scotland?
Closer to home, Social Bite decided to back the Housing First approach after an ambitious bit of research which was commissioned from the I-SPHERE institute in Heriot Watt University. Ending Core Homelessness in Scotland’s Four Largest Cities emphasised the volume of high quality evidence supporting Housing First. To achieve similar progress in Scotland, Social Bites goal is to act as a catalyst for the adoption of Housing First across all 32 Scottish local authorities, so it becomes the default solution to tackling the systemic issue of homelessness.
Over the next 18 months, Social Bite have set an ambitious target of moving 830 people out of a cycle of homelessness and into a home of their own with the support they want to thrive. This will be achieved by scaling up Housing First in Scotland, based on decades of high-quality evidence from other countries.
How can Housing First be achieved in Scotland?
Firstly, through the Sleep in the Park events, Social Bite have been able to invest millions of pounds into the Housing First Pathfinders project. The Merchants House of Glasgow has also made a significant additional contribution.
However, this is only part of the journey. The goal has always been to implement Housing First at a national policy level, with sustainable public support. The Scottish Government officially backed the programme and has pledged £4M to the first two years of the programme and an additional £2.5M for year three to support the transition to local authority mainstreaming of rapid rehousing.
Housing First Scotland, a coalition of third sector experts, people with lived experience and housing providers, is now scaling up the project across Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, Aberdeen and Stirling. This work builds on a small Housing First pilot project, carried out by Turning Point Scotland almost ten years ago.
What has Housing First achieved in Scotland?
Since December 2019, 86 people have been housed across Scotland. They, alongside their partners, are aiming to reach over 800 people affected by homelessness by March 2021.
During the implementation, Social Bite have collected evidence on the outcomes of the programme, particularly linked to tenancy sustainment, positive mental health improvements, and cost savings to local authorities, as well as the cost savings for police, criminal justice and health budgets. In line with this they are seeking to work with local and national government, ensuring that the funding for the support is ultimately mainstreamed.
The project will help to reduce the significant hidden costs of the current system, with international evidence showing that significant savings can be made to the public purse after an initial set up and transitional period of approximately two years. There is the will and resources to implement Housing First. We, like Social Bite look forward to working alongside partners to implement this approach and ensure that housing becomes the first response for people who are experiencing homelessness compounded by other challenges.
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