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The London Housing Foundation Atlas provides a unique overview of Housing First provision in London. The data has been extended in the 2020 release to show the size of projects, as well as their location. In this blog, Becky Rice, project manager for the Atlas, reflects on the potential role of Housing First in providing homes to people accommodated in hotels during the Covid-19 pandemic.

There has been extensive coverage of the effort to move people who were rough sleeping or staying in shelters in London into hotels. This mobilisation involved homelessness and health agencies, voluntary and faith-based organisations, local authorities and the Greater London Authority working together. The results of this partnership effort are impressive:

  • more than 1,000 people who would otherwise be rough sleeping have been accommodated in London hotels
  • people have been accommodated largely regardless of their ‘local connection’ or ‘recourse to public funds’
  • partnerships have been established across homelessness agencies, local health and public health teams, local government, regional government and the wider community.

It is important to note that the situation is far from perfect: there are still people rough sleeping who will be among the most vulnerable; there are still new people arriving on the streets (who desperately need a rapid response); and practice varies by area. And of course, this is a temporary, emergency provision – not in itself an end to anyone’s homelessness.

Many commentators have highlighted that the next phase, as people leave hotel accommodation, is critical. Dame Louise Cassey, head of the Government’s homeless Covid taskforce, describes this period as an “extraordinary opportunity” to offer rough sleepers long-term help to get off the streets.

‘Long-term help’ for people facing rough sleeping inevitably points to Housing First as the solution for some. The approach works with people in a flexible and long-term way. Evidence shows that the Housing First approach ends homelessness for approximately eight out of ten homeless people with complex needs, who have struggled to access services previously. There is a consensus amongst organisations including St Mungo’s, Crisis, Homeless Link and World Habitat that Housing First has to be part of the solution for people who have faced multiple barriers to finding and keeping a home who were accommodated during the pandemic.

From the Atlas we can see that:

  • While there has been a lot of publicity about Housing First nationally, and we have some great projects in London, it is still perhaps surprisingly limited in volume compared to other interventions.
  • New information published this year identified 17 projects, providing support to around 260 people. This compares with nearly 10,000 hostel or support housing spaces and around 3,800 Clearing House tenancies (social rented flats across London ring-fenced as part of the 1991 Rough Sleepers Initiative).
  • St Mungo’s is the largest provider of Housing First services with projects in eight boroughs. Single Homeless Project (SHP) also runs multiple Housing First services in Islington and Camden.
  • Bench Outreach and Solace Women’s Aid run Housing First services in Lewisham and Westminster respectively.
  • Crisis and SHP also have Housing First services that work across boroughs and are not commissioned for a particular local area.
  • The boroughs with the most provision are Camden (50 people supported), Westminster (35) and Lewisham (30).
  • People are not always accommodated in the borough of their Housing First team; for example, in the Housing First services commissioned by the local authority in Camden, people are provided with support in private rented tenancies in a range of boroughs. This contrasts with the model in Lewisham where people are supported in social tenancies within the borough.
  • Teams are usually commissioned by local authorities but some are funded in different ways, e.g. through grants from trusts.
  • The figures above hide some of the influence of Housing First on the sector in London, even where it is not applied with full, evidence-based, fidelity. It is not uncommon to hear people describe remodelling or commissioning services, ‘drawing on’ the Housing First model.

There are challenges and opportunities in scaling up Housing First in London. Among the challenges are:

  • The supply of private rented and social tenancies and the affordability of housing in London
  • Tensions inherent in offering truly long-term service in the face of budget and commissioning cycles
  • The need for a high-quality ecosystem of services, responsive to complex or multiple needs, at a time when services are under pressure; services needed to ‘wrap around’ Housing First support include drug and alcohol, mental health, health and social care and welfare benefits.

Opportunities include:

  • The flexibility of Housing First – basic tenancy support can be adapted for those with higher needs to a Housing First approach.
  • There are options to deliver across housing sectors; scattered units typically used for Housing First in England can perhaps be secured more easily than single site options.
  • The model has potential to be delivered both locally and through pan-London or multi-borough approaches.
  • The strong evidence-base for Housing First and the range of health and other outcomes achieved give it the potential to attract diverse funding streams and creative commissioning approaches.
  • Housing First is evidence-based for people who have faced multiple barriers in accessing services and sustaining accommodation; it’s a service that can be clearly targeted and offer a unique contribution to the overall map of housing and support services on offer.

Whether delivered through pan-London initiatives or extension and proliferation of local projects, it’s likely that Housing First will be providing long-term housing with support, and a place to call home, for many more people in the future, including those who have been accommodated in hotels during the Covid-19 pandemic.

LHF in partnership with Homeless Link will continue to pro-actively collect data about Housing First in London. If you know of any other Housing First services that should be included in the Atlas, or have other questions or comments, please contact becky.rice@lhf.org.uk or gareth.thomas@homelesslink.org.uk

The best places to look for information about Housing First in the Atlas are on the main London Map here for a top-line overview of provision, and on the infographic here for more detail on who provides each service (when you order by provider) and where providers operate (by ordering by borough).  

lhf-atlas-infographic