The simplicity of Housing First
Housing First is a simple concept, yet it is often misunderstood. It is not a housing model itself, it is an approach or methodology for assisting homeless people to access housing or permanent supportive housing. Housing First is based on the idea that people need a stable and secure home before anything else (and these are only examples) such as better living or financial skills, employment, community connections or better health care is possible. Housing is central to everyone’s lives. So, when someone has multiple and complex needs, it seems even more ludicrous to require them to jump through multiple hoops before they might eventually get into stable, affordable, permanent housing. We don’t ask this of most of our population, why do we continue to ask it of people in poverty who have additional health and support needs?
Housing First is not Housing Only (that’s called Rapid Re-housing)
Housing First simply ensures that people who have experienced long term homelessness are provided with housing. First. It doesn’t mean they are only provided with housing. Some people will have serious and permanent support needs and this should be provided (see page about Permanent Supportive Housing). Some people may just need permanent housing, but short term ‘transitional’ support as they move back into housing. Some people may have no additional needs and just need housing. This approach is often called ‘Rapid Re-Housing’ and it is more cost effective than crisis accommodation then transitional housing and followed eventually by permanent housing.
‘Housing First’ is based on a number of elements. These include:
People do not have to be assessed as ‘housing ready’
This is a criterion that is regularly used in other service models and requires homeless people to first transition through a support service or transitional housing option and/or to undertake independent living skills training and assessment. The key reason being that people not be ‘set-up’ to fail in their tenancies. Whilst this is a valuable objective (it is essential that we not set people up to fail), it may not be substantiated by evidence.
Housing is provided as quickly as possible
Offers of housing to move from chronic homelessness on the street are provided as soon as possible after someone agrees that they want to move into housing.
People are provided with adequate and appropriate support services in their home
Whatever level of ongoing support needed, is provided. In the model used by Pathways to Housing in NYC, this is termed assertive community treatment.
People with alcohol or other drug addictions can access housing
Many other program models that may require a transitional period in a congregate care environment may also require a period (or longer) of abstinence from alcohol and/or other drugs. Most Housing First models do not require this and people will be able to access housing regardless of their substance use issues. However, this does not mean that their substance use will be ignored over the longer term. In the first instance there will be support to try to manage it better and over the longer term, support to understand it, reduce or even to cease it. There is some evidence accumulating that once people are in a stable housing situation they are in a better position to try and tackle their addictions.