6.3. Making the Case for Housing First
Several European governments, for example Denmark, Finland, France and Spain, have decided to adopt and test Housing First as a cornerstone of their strategic responses to homelessness. In other European countries, the policy response to Housing First has been more uneven((FEANTSA (2012) On the Way Home? FEANTSA Monitoring Report on Homelessness and Homeless Policies in Europe. Brussels: FEANTSA – http://housingfirstguide.eu/website/on-the-way-home-feantsa-monitoring-report-onhomelessness-and-homeless-policies-in-europe/ Fondation Abbé Pierre/FEANTSA (2015) An Overview of Housing Exclusion in Europe: 2015 – http://housingfirstguide.eu/ website/an-overview-of-housing-exclusion-in-europe-2015/)). At EU level, the report by the Jury at the 2010 European Consensus Conference on Homelessness recommended consideration of Housing First and related services in tackling homelessness((http://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=88&langId=en&eventsId=315&furtherEvents=yes)), a position shared by the European Commission((http://ec.europa.eu/social/BlobServlet?docId=9770&langId=en)).
The role of evidence, particularly good quality evidence that systematically compares Housing First with more orthodox homelessness services, has been fundamental in encouraging the use of Housing First in North America. A good standard of evidence has enabled Housing First to draw attention from European governments and homelessness service providers and attract interest from international organisations like the European Commission and the OECD. Of course, not all the evidence for Housing First is universally viewed as being of good quality and there will be those who remain unconvinced that the evidence shows that Housing First is a model to pursue. Nevertheless, good quality research that clearly shows success in ending homelessness for high-need people and relative cost-effectiveness, will remain important in making the case for Housing First.
In Sweden, Lund University has been actively promoting the idea of Housing First with homelessness service providers and policy makers((http://www.soch.lu.se/en/research/research-groups/housing-first)). In Italy, the Housing First Italia group((http://www.housingfirstitalia.org/en/)), a collaboration between service providers, municipalities and academics, operating under the auspices of fio.PSD, has also been promoting Housing First. The grassroots, or ground-up, advocacy and discussion of Housing First can help put this important innovation that reduces homelessness among people with high support needs, on the policy agenda. Collaborations between service providers and universities, like in Sweden and Italy, combine professionals in service delivery with professionals in evaluation, which enhances capacity to lobby effectively for Housing First by collecting strong evidence.
In England, Homeless Link, the federation of homelessness service providers, have developed Housing First England((www.homeless.org.uk/hfengland)), a programme designed to promote Housing First at policy level and as a model of good practice, starting in 2016. Again, this is a collaborative effort, closely reflecting developments in Italy and Sweden.
Housing First is successful because of the way in which support is provided but it is equally, perhaps even more, successful because of the emphasis on rapidly providing a home, and so removing a person from homelessness and the risks and uncertainties associated with homelessness (see Chapter 1 and Chapter 3). There is research evidence that, while coordination of services within an integrated homelessness strategy produces a more effective policy response to homelessness, nothing can ultimately overcome a shortage of affordable, adequate housing. Housing First is important as an innovation, but it is also important because it draws attention to the central role that housing must play within a strategic response to homelessness((Pleace, N., Culhane, D.P., Granfelt, R. and Knutagård, M. (2015) The Finnish Homelessness Strategy: An International Review Helsinki: Ministry of the Environment – https://helda.helsinki.fi/handle/10138/153258)).
Housing First is also significant because it fractures assumptions about the nature of homelessness and the people who experience homelessness. It shows that homelessness is not as simple as behaviours and attitudes that need to be changed; in fact, it is a successful service response that supports and enables recovery but does not demand behaviour change or use sanctions to force change. By rapidly providing housing, recognising the shared humanity of homeless people and respecting their choices and encouraging recovery, Housing First ends homelessness (see Chapter 1).