"Housing First" approach would end homelessness, report argues

A "HOUSING FIRST" model would end rough sleeping - and pay for itself within three years, according to a new report.

Think tank the Centre for Social Justice, which was established in 2004 by former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith, said the system would provide people with an independent, stable home combined with personalised support to give them access to mental health services, drug and alcohol treatment and employment training for those who are ready.

It estimates the plan would require Government investment of £110m a year, but would be cost neutral over the course of a parliament by saving money across health, justice and housing.

Housing would be rented from private landlords to offer participants a greater choice of location and type of accommodation, and creating a better sense of community integration, the report said.

Unlike the current system in the UK, Housing First would not require participants to prove they have tried to reduce their drug and alcohol intake before they can access permanent housing. The CSJ said forcing people to tackle their addictions before they have stable accommodation has been found to make their lives more chaotic, rather than acting as an incentive for change.

The number of rough sleepers in England has risen by more than 130 per cent in the last six years, climbing from 1,800 on any given night in 2010 to more than 4,000 in 2016. Every year, around 34,500 sleep rough in England. The report said this costs the Government £1bn annually in health, drug rehabilitation and criminal justice.    

"Home is the secure base for the whole of life. Without this, people are unable to lead settled lives, maintain employment or provide an environment that will help their children escape poverty," said Andy Cook, chief executive of the CSJ.

"Housing First echoes the CSJ's guiding principles by addressing the causes of homelessness and not just treating the symptoms. The scheme offers a long-term solution for some of the most vulnerable people in our society. It is a smart upfront investment that will save the Government money and, more importantly, save lives."

Homelessness charity Crisis, which co-commissioned the report, said Housing First has been successfully implemented in countries including Canada, Finland and the US.

It has been piloted in Manchester, Glasgow and Camden. In Manchester, a project helped to reduce offending among women. One individual with 140 offences prior to taking part has not reoffended since entering the scheme, the CSJ said. 

Overall, the project has achieved up to 80 per cent sustained tenancies, with "minimal" reports of anti-social behaviour. It has saved the local authority £2.51 for every £1 invested.

Former Conservative MP Brooks Newmark, who chaired the working group behind the report, said: "Many of the rough sleepers I have met have complex needs. On the streets, these problems only get worse. Most people I have met want a home. Finding somewhere to live is the first step on their road to recovery. Yet we have not tackled this problem effectively enough. The problem is not unsurmountable. It is just a question of political will."

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, said: "It is a scandal that anyone should be forced to sleep rough in 21st century England. Rough sleepers are 17 times more likely to be a victim of violence, homeless people are twice as likely to die of infection and nine times more likely to take their own life. The average age of death of a homeless person is just 47. 

"This report could represent a major turning point in our approach to ending homelessness in England. Housing First is based on the simple yet powerful concept that the best way to tackle homelessness is to provide people with accommodation of their own. This sounds obvious yet it is often the opposite to the way rough sleepers and long-term homeless people are treated. The evidence base for Housing First is very strong. It is time for the Government to act."

Local government secretary Sajid Javid welcomed the study.

"My department will be studying the recommendations closely, as this is a cause close to my heart. I'm particularly interested in Housing First as a means to ending chronic homelessness. I intend to travel to Finland to learn more about the approach."