Soha Housing, operating in South Oxfordshire and surrounding areas has, with South Oxfordshire District Council (SODC), established a pilot to identify the impact on homeless people, the community and the public purse.
Soha and SODC are jointly funding the initiative and have commissioned independent evaluation to show that the model is transferable in a semi-rural area not historically associated with homelessness.
Cllr David Rouane, cabinet member for housing for South Oxfordshire District Council, said: “South Oxfordshire District Council is delighted to be working with Soha and Aspire to help some of the district’s most vulnerable residents. Housing First provides a stable, supportive environment for former rough sleepers to rebuild their lives”.
Maureen Adams, Director of Services and Communities at Soha explains: “As a Homes for Cathy member, Soha is committed to working in partnership with SODC to tackle homelessness. Our residents are fully behind this project and want to see us make a difference in their locality.”
Specialist support is being provided by Aspire, an award-winning employment charity and social enterprise in Oxfordshire. They help vulnerable people facing challenges - such as homelessness, poverty, addiction, offending histories or mental health difficulties - to move into the world of work. Aspire harnesses intensive, holistic support to address each individual's complex needs and make significant, positive changes to their lives.
The social landlords making Housing First work
Homes for Cathy hears from three member organisations that have played a role in getting Housing First schemes off the ground to discover the challenges housing associations face in making the model a success.
Developed in the US in the 80s and adopted with widespread success in mainland Europe, Housing First is an evidence-based approach to homelessness intervention that has gained significant momentum in the UK over the past three years.
Heralded as a solution to our growing rough sleeping crisis, the approach takes entrenched rough sleepers with high and complex needs off the streets and into permanent accommodation with intensive, tailored and open-ended support. Unlike traditional approaches to homelessness intervention, with Housing First no preconditions are placed on individuals, only a willingness to maintain their tenancy agreement. Individuals are not required to address any other needs they might have, or engage with other services, in order to keep their home.
The model has attracted high profile support; in 2017 Theresa May pledged £28 million to fund three regional Housing First pilots in Greater Manchester, Liverpool and the West Midlands, the Scottish government is investing £6.5 million in a three year Housing First roll-out and in Wales, £700,000 has been allocated by the government for Housing First schemes.
Aside from these pilots, many more Housing First schemes have been launched at local level – around two thirds of these have been funded by local authorities, usually through Housing Related Support budgets, according to Housing First England.
Social landlords have been called upon to help get schemes off the ground, by providing both accommodation and in some cases the wraparound support that is intrinsic to making the model work. However, the relative infancy of Housing First in the UK means the model represents uncharted waters for most housing associations, and many face a steep learning curve in establishing schemes.
Securing funding and pilot projects
Gaining board approval and securing funding is only the tip of the iceberg in what can be a lengthy process. Homes for Cathy member, Soha Housing, worked with its key local authority, South Oxfordshire District Council (SODC), which put up joint funding for a pilot project of six properties from Soha’s housing stock.
Maureen Adams, Soha’s Director of Services and Communities, comments:
“SODC helped establish a Project Board and provided access to homeless people with complex needs, suggesting ways to manage the risks and establish a framework that would be acceptable to homeless people, the local community, and politicians alike.
“We then worked with Aspire, a local specialist charity with expertise in homelessness and staff skilled in handling vulnerability and substance misuse, who provided extensive pre-engagement activity with service users.”
Stephanie Wood, Head of Supported Housing at Homes for Cathy member Sovereign Housing, which is involved with Housing First schemes in West Berkshire and on the Isle of Wight in partnership with charity Two Saints, says:
“Housing associations need to consider that it can take a very long time to get Housing First schemes up and running. A lot of work happens to get everyone on the same page before a person is housed, from identifying suitable people through to building their trust and getting their buy in. Every stakeholder in the project needs to be realistic about the timescales involved, particularly as there are usually multiple agencies working together.”
Establishing eligibility is an important part of the process. While stakeholders involved in setting up schemes may have a good knowledge of individuals who would be suitable, in a multi-agency approach, ideas can differ.
Daniel Revell-Wiseman, Care and Supported Housing Contracts Manager for Hightown Housing Association, which is working with both St Albans District Council and Dacorum Borough Council in Hemel Hempstead to launch a Housing First scheme, comments:
“Working across areas can be a challenge, as in each area there can be differing needs in terms of who is a priority for housing. Having a strong criteria for the service is therefore essential in order to easily assess the individuals who could benefit the most.”
The longer timescales necessary to identify suitable tenants and carry out pre-engagement work can have ramifications for landlords in terms of the accommodation they have identified for schemes.
Daniel adds: “To be true to the Housing First model, we should identify the service user first and then find suitable property. However, in reality, we have found possible properties before we have had referrals. It can be a challenge to have homes available at the point you need them – registered providers need to be prepared for longer void periods as a result.”
Article originally published by Homes fore Cathy