On the face of it, there is nothing radical about giving a rough sleeper a home. But Housing First has long been billed as the idea and initiative to get behind if we want to end rough sleeping once and for all. It has proven to be a huge success in Finland, all but ending street homelessness over the last 30 years.
Housing First is a simple idea – rough sleepers are given a home through an unconditional tenancy, much like the private residential tenancy many of us live in. But alongside living quarters, wraparound support is also provided to help people overcome the problems, such as addiction or mental health issues, that may have dogged them for years and left them trapped in a life on the streets. In theory, it offers rough sleepers a platform to put down roots and readjust to mainstream society without an isolating and upending spell in temporary accommodation.
This is my first Christmas tree since I was thrown out of my house when I was 16
Of all the parts of the UK that have looked to Finland for the answers to homelessness, Scotland is the most advanced. The Housing First Scotland Pathfinder Programme has led to 150 tenancies in Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Stirling and Aberdeen/Aberdeenshire. The initial results have been encouraging – so far around 93 per cent of tenancies have been sustained. The plan is to top 800 tenancies by March 2021, with the Scottish Government providing £6.5m alongside £3m from the Social Bite social enterprise and charity Merchants House Glasgow’s contribution of £200,000 to hit that target and turn Housing First into the default council response.
Housing First is also on the agenda in England and Wales, underway in small schemes as well as larger-scale regional trials in Greater Manchester, Merseyside and the West Midlands.
But while Housing First continues to be assessed, trialled and tested, it’s important to tell the stories of people like Christopher Middlemass – a 39-year-old from Edinburgh now living in a tenancy in Glasgow – on their journey from the streets and into permanent homes. He tells his story in how own words:
Last October I was trying to travel up to my father’s. I was homeless at the time and had been for three months after splitting up with my partner and losing my home. I was living in a homeless B&B in Edinburgh but I’d cut myself off my medication without any help, I just directly cut it off. After five or six days I had psychosis because all of the receptors in my brain were coming back and I didn’t know what was going on. I was trying to travel to my father’s in October and ended up walking naked in the middle of the night past junction 19 of the M8. I got locked up in HMP Barlinnie for a breach of the peace because I was of no fixed abode.