Housing First as the answer to roughsleeping

Rough sleepers usually have a myriad of problems. Sleeping outdoors is the result of other problems, not the problem itself. The real problems stem from child abuse, poor mental health, addiction, and so on. And many who are not addicted to drink or drugs become so having been on the streets.

It is hard to conquer an addiction to drink or drugs. Harder still if you are on the streets, or have no stable home, or relationships. Yet despite that, we persist in believing that rough sleepers should solve their problems before they get a permanent home. They should staircase through hostels etc.

All the evidence is that this does not work very often. And it is very expensive. A Westminster rough sleeper casework manager told me once that he had more staff than there were rough sleepers, but that they could not offer the rough sleepers what they wanted or needed – a stable place of their own, from which to rebuild their lives.

They do it differently in Finland, where they follow the “Housing First” principles. They give people a (tiny) place of their own, conditional only on them treating it with basic respect. That gives them space to tackle the demons in their lives, be that mental illness or addiction. With help, of course. It doesn’t work for all, but it does work for some. The evidence base is well-known, and can be found here: https://hfe.homeless.org.uk/principles-housing-first (I have no connection to this organisation).

We tried that, inadvertently, this spring. Anecdotally it worked, as this Times Article by Christina Lamb shows. https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/at-the-prince-rupert-they-treat-the-homeless-as-guests-except-they-give-them-a-hug-0z26c9z0v

I hope that HCLG are doing long term follow up work, but I think we know enough to at least launch a full-stale randomised control trial of housing first in the UK. We could improve lives and save money. Not often you can do both.




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