In January 2023, we launched the first cohort of a new Housing First diploma course for professionals, based at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. The diploma offers an intensive, carefully constructed, and practice-oriented program of five teaching days spread over four months. The curriculum is co-developed by Housing First Nederland, Utrecht University for applied sciences, and various guest lecturers, who share their expertise in the field of Housing First and everything that comes with it.
This course is intended for a wide range of professionals engaged in ending homelessness. Our aim is to bring together a group of people with diverse backgrounds who are committed to this shared task. People do this from various roles and organizations, such as: housing corporations, care organizations, central government, municipalities, and interest groups.
The course includes an introduction to Housing First, in which we discuss the history of its development and the model. We pay attention to the scientific basis of Housing First and global development trends, as well as the steps involved in implementation, monitoring of quality, and how public support can be created. We address the methodical side of providing support to Housing First clients and reflect on how continuous learning and innovation can take place.
The program is packed with guest lecturers from the field who teach from their professional, experiential, or scientific knowledge about Housing First. This knowledge can then be directly translated into the local context of the students and applied to their daily practice.
With each cohort of the course, we are committed to making sure that two places are available free of charge for experts by experience. We not only believe it is important to offer them opportunities, but that their insights also enrich the learning process of the group.
Supporting the national strategy to combat homelessness.
The demand from the field for training and for combating conceptual confusion around Housing First has been very high for some time now. Training courses have been offered here and there, especially on the methodical side of the support work, but a thorough course covering the many facets of Housing First from both an operational and a strategic perspective was not yet available in the Netherlands. Moreover, the focus so far has mainly been on training social workers, while Housing First must also increasingly include housing corporations and municipalities on our side as equal partners to achieve systemic change. There has been increasing interest from these parties and a clear need for more know-how. All stakeholders have a crucial role to play in the process and should be equally at the forefront of making Housing First a reality.
Furthermore, on 5th December, a new national strategy for combating homelessness was introduced in the Netherlands, taking elements of Housing First as a starting point. The new approach will require changes in culture and thinking about homelessness. Prejudices and stigma affect all people, including those who are working with people (at risk of) experiencing homelessness. This requires a change of mentality from government to citizen: a structural and cultural shift in governance and prevailing attitudes towards homelessness. It means changing from a system that manages homelessness to a system that strives to eliminate it.
Knowledge building and quality improvement are indispensable for the success of this long-term strategy. Our course is designed to strengthen the development of Housing First at national, regional, and local levels. We are confident that this initiative will bring more implementation power to municipalities, housing corporations, and healthcare providers.
What have we learned so far?
The first cohort of the diploma is currently in progress. We are very pleased that we have a well-balanced group of participants, among which all stakeholder perspectives are represented. The group includes, but is not limited to: employees from housing associations and municipalities, care providers, and experts with practical experience. Learning from each other’s experience has already proven to be an effective element of the course. We’re seeing in real-time how it leads to a better understanding of each other’s practice and a higher degree of connection. The varied input from specialists on various Housing First themes is also highly appreciated. If anything, as educators, the challenge is that there is so much to tell our cohort about Housing First that we could actually turn it into a year-round course!
It’s also wonderful to hear how people are already using what they have learned so far to make improvements to their practice, even after just a few lessons! For example, an employee from a housing corporation said that he has already started to offer rental contracts in a Housing First client’s own name, even though he had to overcome a lot of resistance within his own organization. He dared to do it because he now not only believed in it but, through the course, he has gained the confidence and the evidence-based arguments to substantiate it.
Even if people believe in Housing First as an idea, being equipped with this knowledge can make all the difference in persuading others to put those beliefs into practice, and hearing examples like this – which directly result from the course content – only further underlines the value of professional development courses on Housing First within the homeless, social, and public policy sectors.
About the author:
Melanie Schmit is Co-founder and President of Housing First Nederland and a Housing First Europe Hub certified trainer.
Since 2014, Melanie has been involved locally, nationally and internationally in the Housing First movement and the start-up of several practices for adults and youth in the country. Melanie knows the work inside out, as a support worker, as a manager, and as a pioneer in the implementation and development of Housing First in the Netherlands. In addition, she has worked as a coach and trainer. Over the years, she has been able to translate these experiences into what Housing First can bring and needs at different levels.
Follow Melanie on social media:
LinkedIn: Melanie Schmit – Voorzitter Housing First Nederland | Programmamanager Housing First bij LIMOR
Interested to learn more about the diploma program?
Find out more on the Housing First Nederland website here
Or contact: firstname.lastname@example.org