Housing First, but not last

Over the last three months momentum has been building to one of the largest, if not the largest fundraising events in Edinburgh to help tackle one of society's most profound challenges, the problem of homelessness.

At the time of writing this Social Bite's Sleep in the Park has raised nearly £4,000,000 through individuals sleeping out in the heart of the city as a demonstration of the challenge faced by many every day.

A significant driver behind this effort has been the desire to tackle core homelessness; that is those individuals who are faced with the more extreme forms of homelessness, from rough sleeping to unsuitable temporary accommodation.

Homelessness remains a significant problem in Scotland and there has been recognition of this from the Scottish Government, who have established a task force and fund to start dealing with the issue. Although the challenge is different in the main cities there is an underlying thread of commonality. A recent report by academics from Heriot Watt University identified that between a third and a half of all homeless cases in Scotland's four main cities have a degree of complex needs that impact on their homelessness. Furthermore, the housing solutions put in place for these individuals are 'systematically less favourable' than for other applicants.

To this end there has been a strong argument for system wide adoption of Housing First, an approach with a growing track record of success for complex homelessness that has been implemented across parts of the UK, Canada, Australia, USA and Europe. The promoters of the Sleep in the Park have acknowledged that they alone cannot fund this approach in a sustainable way. Their efforts are focussed on nudging the public sector and its partners, like Castle Rock Edinvar, to overcome its inertia and adopt Housing First. We submitted our own bid to launch this model two years ago and this time we are hopeful it will get off the ground.

Going back to the data from the Heriot Watt study and there is an even more important statistic: over the last ten years there has been a 40% increase in the number of people presenting as homeless due to Anti-Social Behaviour, Mental ill-Health, Drugs/Alcohol and Domestic Violence/Abuse. Housing First can be a better approach to supporting these individuals back in to accommodation. The challenge is how do we, as a society, reduce the likelihood of this happening in the first place? A recent study from the USA showed that those presenting as homeless before the age of 50 had more adverse life experiences and lower attainment of typical life milestones in young and middle adulthood.  

Housing First can help those who find themselves in one of life's most difficult positions. To prevent it from happening in the first place we need to look beyond housing and consider how all support and interventions from the early years onwards can improve the life chances of those individuals who are most at risk in society.

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