Can Housing First play a role in Homeless Prevention (Protecting Homes)?
Housing first cannot be everything to everyone, so why are we asking it to be?
If a person is already living in their own tenancy, experiencing multiple and enduring support needs and requires wrap around support, why are we not adapting our Housing Support services to deliver intensive support, for as long as people need, rather than asking Housing First to complete this role?
Housing First was designed to work where our homelessness system was failing. It had the potential to be a springboard to change the rest of the system, but while we’ve embraced Housing First, we haven’t done enough to consider how to fix what’s broken in our system. We need to adapt other services and parts of the system to operate in a way that allows Housing First to flourish, and that allows these services to step up and intervene to prevent homelessness.
Many housing support services are time limited to 9 moths, 1 year or 2 years. Why can’t we allow our housing support services to deliver short, medium and long term support, in time frames that are built on what people need? This would mean we do not need to adapt Housing First services to provide what this part of this part of the system can successfully deliver. This is not only about protecting Housing First, it is about recognising the important impact and role played but Housing Support within the prevention of homelessness.
Turning Point Scotland are developing a test of change within a smaller local authority area where we have a small Housing First team and a small Housing Support team. We recognize there can be capacity in either team at any particular time. By merging these teams, staff can carry a caseload of Housing Support and Housing First cases, ensuring we maximize capacity by increasing provision to delivery either approach, according to the need at the time. This prevents us having capacity in one team when we have referrals in the other, and allows us to adapt to demand, responding to what people need, while making best use of the resources available. As service users in Housing First move to lower level support we can move them to ‘housing support’ on paper, without changing their support worker, allowing the worker to increase their caseload and take on another Housing First service user.
We continue to advocate a 1-7 staff to service user ratio in Housing First as the best way to balance high quality and intensive support, with the capacity and wellbeing of our staff team. We empower service managers to increase this ratio where we have service users on lower level support or exit plans. One of the aims of this test of change is to consider how to maintain this balance of priorities, while we merge Housing First and Housing Support teams which maintains fidelity to Housing First.
Whether we merge teams or not, I feel strongly that we must stay true to the fidelity of Housing First and prevent confusing it with other approaches which can be just as effective and play an important part in protecting homes. We need to consider how this support can be developed to maximise its efficiency and effectiveness, to ensure that it delivers what people need in the way that works for them, but Housing Support deserves its own place alongside Housing First, rather than being subsumed by this specific model.
In the short term, whilst we evolve other parts of the system, can Housing First help to prevent homelessness and protect homes? Yes. We need to help people protect their homes whilst other parts of the system cannot help. However, when we evolve other parts of the system they should take over.