‘Remarkable Growth’ Of Housing First

Homeless Link’s ‘Picture of Housing First in England 2020’ research outlines a remarkable growth in Housing First provision across the country – a tripling in the number of services since 2017 serving six times more people facing multiple disadvantage.

The research indicates how far we have come – and how far we still have to go – in our ambition to make Housing First available for everyone who needs it. Earlier this year, the Government announced major new investment in move-on housing and support, and the homelessness sector put long-term plans in place for people placed in emergency accommodation during Everyone In. Undoubtedly, the appetite and the opportunity to follow through on Government commitments to expansion were there.

Now, against the backdrop of a continuing pandemic and many individuals with complex needs returning to the streets, the case for investment in Housing First is clearer than ever. In using this proven approach, we will ensure that people facing multiple disadvantage receive the best possible support to help end their homelessness. Homeless Link’s ‘Picture of Housing First research gives an overview of where we currently stand. It reveals where progress is being made and highlights the opportunities and challenges we face, helping us to identify areas for focus as we move towards the new funding year.

We have witnessed the rapid expansion of Housing First in the last three years, with an estimated 105 services currently operating in England, up from 32 in 2017. 1,995 people can now be supported – a six fold increase on the 350 people in 2017. Services are operating in every region of the country, although the spread is uneven. There are excellent signs of high fidelity to the Housing First Principles, a good indicator of service success. Seventy-one per cent of services have caseloads of six people or fewer, enabling flexible and intensive support. Similarly, the vast majority of services will continue to offer support to a resident if they move from their property, and do not place a time limit on the support offered.

The use of social housing has increased significantly, demonstrating growing support for Housing First among social landlords. Eighty-one per cent of services now use social housing, compared to 61% in 2017, which is encouraging as it provides the most stable – and usually most affordable – accommodation.

Despite this progress, accessing suitable accommodation swiftly, and getting buy-in from landlords continue to be among the greatest challenges reported by services. In addition, affordability barriers to the private rented sector continue to limit its use. The report shows that funding for many services remains short-term, posing an ongoing challenge to Housing First’s open-ended offer of support for residents and reflecting the wider fragmented and competitive homelessness funding environment. While the recent rapid expansion of diverse projects should be celebrated, there is more to do if we want Housing First to be viable and accessible to all those who need it.

Homeless Link will continue to campaign for fair access to housing and statutory services for those facing multiple disadvantage, and for sustainable approaches to funding, which reduce the inherent tension between short-term commissioning cycles and the long-term nature of Housing First support. It will also be important to explore the value of expanding the number of specialist services catering, for example, for women and young people, and how services can reach people from different groups in terms of gender, ethnicity and sexuality, to improve the accessibility of Housing First. As ever, fidelity to the Principles will be key, and we will support services to achieve this.

Homeless Link’s 2020 campaign to expand Housing First, supported by almost 30 social housing providers and stakeholders, included asks of the Government that remain important today. We continue to call for a commitment to long-term funding for the support services needed to enable 16,500 Housing First tenancies over the current Government term, and for a supply of suitable homes to meet the demand for Housing First and wider provision to tackle homelessness.

We have made huge strides in Housing First delivery over the last three years. If we can keep up the momentum of growth and efficacy over the next three, the achievement of our ambitions to provide this support for all those who need it will be well within our reach.