3.1. Housing Sustainment
The first goal of Housing First is to secure housing. Housing is the first, rather than the last, issue that a Housing First service deals with. Beginning with housing is a key difference between Housing First and some other models of homelessness service, such as staircase services, that try to make someone ‘housing ready’ before offering them a home. Using housing as the starting point means that Housing First services can concentrate their support on enabling someone to live as independently as possible, supporting their health and well-being and offering help with community and wider social integration (see Chapter 2).
Housing First is not housing only((http://www.housingfirsttoolkit.ca/)). Housing is essential and is the starting point for Housing First but it must be combined with support. If someone is housed, but treatment is not being offered, there is no practical help with day-to-day living, they are socially isolated, not part of a community and have nothing meaningful to occupy them, much of what is potentially damaging about homelessness is still happening to them((Jones, A. and Pleace, N. (2005) Daytime Homelessness London: Crisis)). At best, a homeless person with high needs who is housed without support is being ‘warehoused’ without the option to move towards recovery. At worst, homelessness will become repeated, as unmet needs cause housing loss((Pleace, N. (1997) Rehousing Single Homeless People, in Burrows, R., Pleace, N. and Quilgars, D. (Eds) Homelessness and Social Policy London: Routledge, 151-179)).
Support is essential to the success of Housing First. Ending homelessness at a high rate is achieved by providing high quality support services after a service user has been housed.
There are specific aspects of support that play a direct role in helping the people using Housing First sustain their housing. Central to these forms of support is regular contact with a Housing First staff member. Alongside checking the well-being of the Housing First service user, a staff member reviews their housing situation and ensures there are no current, or potential, problems. Most Housing First services have a regular meeting, usually once a week, face-to-face, in a Housing First service user’s home. Some Housing First services require a set form of regular meeting; others are more flexible about how often the meeting happens and might also allow it to take place by telephone or on social media. The frequency and type of contact is determined by the expressed needs of the service user.
3.1.1. The Support Provided
The role of Housing First staff in directly supporting housing sustainment can involve the following activities:
- Regular monitoring of each Housing First service user’s housing situation, checking for current and potential problems with housing sustainment
Ensuring relationships with neighbours are as good as possible. This can be a crucial part of the support a Housing First service provides. Housing sustainment can be closely linked to community integration, workers will need to ensure, insofar as possible, that a Housing First service user is happy with their neighbours and that their neighbours are happy to live next door to a Housing First service user.
Practical advice and assistance in ensuring that a home is suitable. This kind of help may be provided when someone is moving into their new home and requires help with furniture, with ensuring the kitchen is properly equipped and power and water are connected and working, or if something goes wrong with the apartment and help is needed to get it repaired.
Help with budgeting. Some Housing First services have partial control of budgeting for Housing First service users, to ensure that rent, or their contribution to rent, is paid. Others simply offer advice with managing money. Support with welfare rights, i.e. claiming all welfare benefit payments to which they are entitled, may also be provided to Housing First service users.
Advice and support for independent living. Some Housing First service users may initially need help with cooking healthy meals and with cleaning and maintaining or decorating their home because these are things they have not done before or not done for a long time.
Housing First may effectively provide full, or partial, housing management services for private or social rented landlords. Here, in return for having access to housing, Housing First services may offer to manage the housing for the landlord, so that the landlord effectively has to do nothing but receive rent payments. Some Housing First services may also guarantee rent. Here, the Housing First service provides support to the Housing First service user, but also manages the housing to reflect the concerns of the landlord (see Chapter 4).
All other types of support should be provided as needed: it is important for Housing First services to be very flexible, accepting, non-judgemental and have an ethos of doing whatever it takes. They may be called upon to help unclog a sink or toilet, to teach someone about their new cooker or how to work the remote control for the TV, to help them adjust to their neighbourhood, use the washing machine, practice avoiding a drug dealer, and often just to listen, not as a service provider but as one human being to another.