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Michael Gove must create a national Housing First programme

If the government wants to eliminate rough sleeping by 2024 it must build on the success of the Housing First pilots and roll out a national programme, writes Homeless Link's Alex Smith.

Photographer: Hollie Adams/Bloomberg via Getty Images

At the end of October, Chancellor Rishi Sunak will outline the government’s spending plans for the next three years. Clearly, as many of the emergency pandemic measures fall away, this is a major moment for industries across the UK, with all departments from education to the Home Office competing for funds to rebuild.

Through the dedication and investment of organisations across the country, Housing First in England has grown hugely in the past decade. But research shows that Housing First services still only have capacity to house around 12 per cent of people who could benefit from support. 

The government set itself a target of ending rough sleeping by 2024.

In 2017, it made a groundbreaking £28m investment to establish three regional Housing First pilots in Liverpool, the West Midlands and Greater Manchester.

Four years down the line, it’s safe to say that this investment has delivered incredible results.

The second evaluation report, published in July, found the pilots had housed 534 people with a tenancy sustainment rate of 87 per cent. But this impact goes beyond statistics.

The majority of people housed will have been through long stretches of rough sleeping beforehand, with many likely to have given up the hope of ever having a stable home again. As one beneficiary in Greater Manchester recently said, “I got given hope.”

In June of this year, Homeless Link wrote to the then Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick.

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Signed by multiple organisations including providers in each of the pilot areas as well as national charities such as Crisis and St Mungo’s, the letter called on the government to commit to funding the pilots beyond 2022, warning that the imminent ending of the projects was causing great anxiety while contradicting the core ethos of Housing First. 

Jenrick said that rough sleeping ‘isn’t high enough on the government’s agenda’

In August, Jenrick replied. In the letter he praised Housing First as an intervention and said that, while his department could not promise funds before the spending review later this year, “the findings of our evaluation, together with our experiences and feedback from the three pilot areas, will ensure the achievements and learning from the Housing First pilots are incorporated into future decision making”.

But now we have a new Secretary of State in Michael Gove. He has expressed a desire to maintain progress where it has been made, but has given little indication of his views on Housing First in the past and he made no mention of homelessness in his recent speech at the Conservative Party conference.

Meanwhile, his predecessor Jenrick said at a conference fringe event that rough sleeping “isn’t high enough on the government’s agenda”.

If further funding isn’t announced, it would clearly be a huge blow, putting the wellbeing of those already housed at risk and potentially undoing the amazing work of the last four years.

On the other hand, an announcement of continued investment would clearly demonstrate the new department’s commitment to including those at the most acute end of inequality as part of the Levelling Up agenda.

The pilots are only part of the picture. Research commissioned by Homeless Link and Crisis estimated that at least 16,450 Housing First places are needed by people with complex needs in England. However, we estimate that the 105 Housing First services in operation today have the capacity to support only 1,995 people.

Clearly if the government is to meet its target of ending rough sleeping by 2024, this picture has to change. That’s why Homeless Link is calling for a national, cross-departmental Housing First programme, initially funded over the next three years, to roll out and expand Housing First in areas where it is needed.

We are loudest when we shout together

A dedicated multi-year programme is required because traditional homelessness funding and commissioning often undermines the unique principles that make Housing First work.

Short-term pots with traditional expectations often fail to take into account the open-ended and unconditional support offer of Housing First, the importance of choice and control, and the patience and intensity of support that people who have experienced extreme complex trauma require.

We are loudest when we shout together. That’s why we need other people and organisations to take action in supporting these calls.

Homeless Link’s campaign – Everyone In for Good – has a host of materials people can use to contact their local MP, asking them to lobby the government to support Housing First in England.

If government investment doesn’t come, I know homelessness organisations will still use their passion and ingenuity to grow Housing First in England. But a national programme, coupled with security for the pilots, would be a huge step forward, helping thousands more people end their homelessness for good while levelling up communities across the country.

Alex Smith is senior project manager of Housing First England at Homeless Link.

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