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4.1. Housing and Neighbourhood in Housing First

There is an important distinction between being provided with accommodation and having a real home. To be a home, housing must offer:

  • Legally enforceable security of tenure, i.e. someone using Housing First should not be in a position where they have no housing rights and can be evicted immediately without any warning and/or with the use of force.
  • Privacy. Housing must be a private space where someone can choose to be alone without interference and can conduct personal relationships with family, friends and/or their partner.
  • A space that the person living within it has control over, in terms of who can enter their home and when they can do so and also in terms of being able to live in the way they wish, within the usual constraints of a standard tenancy or lease agreement.
  • A place in which someone feels physically safe and secure.
  • Affordability, in that rent payments are not so high as to undermine the person’s ability to meet other living costs, such as food and utility bills.
  • All the amenities that an ordinary home possesses, sufficient furniture, a working kitchen and bathroom and working lighting, heating and plumbing.
  • A fit standard for occupation, i.e. not overcrowded or in poor repair.
  • Their own place that they can decorate and furnish as they wish and where they can live their life in the way they choose. Housing must not be subject to the kind of rules and regulations that can exist in an institution, determining how a space is decorated, furnished and lived in.

The European typology of homelessness (ETHOS) identifies physical, social and legal domains in defining what is meant by a home. The physical domain centres on having one’s own living space, i.e. someone has their own front door to their own home, under their exclusive control. The social domain means having the space and the privacy to be ‘at home’. The legal domain echoes the international definition of a right to housing, i.e. security of residence with legal protections (see Chapter 2)((European Typology of Homelessness and housing exclusion

The location of housing is important. However, Housing First services will not have the resources to simply pick anywhere in a city or municipality. In some locations, such as major European cities, there will very often be a need for compromise between what is affordable for Housing First service users and what would be an ‘ideal’ home.

Where possible, it is important to avoid areas characterised by high crime rates, nuisance behaviour and low social cohesion/weak social capital, where there is little or no ‘community’ in a positive sense and a Housing First service user might be subject to bullying or persecution or be at continual risk of being a victim of crime. There is clear evidence that the wrong location can inhibit or undermine the recovery that Housing First services seek to promote((Pleace, N. with Wallace, A. (2011) Demonstrating the Effectiveness of Housing Support Services for People with Mental Health Problems: A Review London: National Housing Federation.)). More generally, it is desirable to avoid physically unpleasant locations and those without access to necessary and desirable amenities, e.g. an affordable local shop, public transport links and pleasant green space. The right kind of neighbourhood can be a determinant of health, well-being and social integration((Bevan, M. and Croucher, K. (2011) Lifetime Neighbourhoods, London: DCLG documents/2011/lifetimeneighbourhoods.pdf)), positively influencing outcomes for Housing First service users.

Some Housing First service users may wish to move away from the locations in which they experienced homelessness. The reasons for this may include wanting to avoid negative peer pressure from their former life. For some Housing First service users, including women who have experienced gender-based/domestic violence, there may be a need to avoid living in certain areas for reasons of personal safety and to improve their health and well-being. Ideally, housing should not be located in an area that a Housing First service user wishes to avoid.

Adequate homes must be located in an adequate neighbourhood. Avoiding areas characterised by social problems and poor facilities will help increase the chances that housing can be sustained.