UK homeless charity inspired by Finnish thinking

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Homelessness is on the rise in many countries across Europe. Crisis - the UK's national charity for homeless people and JLL's charity partner - explains how Finland has reversed this trend with its 'Housing First' approach.

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The number of people forced to sleep rough in England has risen by a shocking 130% in the past 5 years. A combination of welfare reform, increasing rents and reductions in public services has contributed to an increase which has been mirrored in many countries across Europe.

However, there is one European country where rough sleeping is actually decreasing. Finland has been able to effectively end rough sleeping where 20 years ago the scale of the problem was similar to the current situation in the UK.

This success can be attributed to a number of initiatives. A national and local government backed strategy and commitment has been crucial but perhaps most significant has been the introduction of a ‘Housing First’ approach to ending homelessness. It may seem obvious that the solution to homelessness lies in giving people their own homes as soon as possible, however that has not traditionally been the approach taken.

The Housing First approach originated in the USA in the late eighties and is based on a number of key principles; that housing is a basic human right for all, that homeless people should have choice and control over where they live and that the offer of housing should not be conditional on someone’s behaviour or their health or mental health condition. The housing provided is typically dispersed across a community thereby not creating the condition that homeless people all need to live in the same building to receive the support they need, and the associated risk of dependency on the service.

The Housing First approach does not require a homeless person to pass certain tests before they can progress through stages of a housing pathway, where they eventually, and hopefully, end up with their own home. Housing First provides a stable base for someone before then presenting them with the opportunities to address the issues which led to them becoming homeless. Research from a number of countries who have adopted Housing First has shown overwhelmingly that it ends homelessness for good for more people, and has associated benefits such as greater engagement with health services or other positive activities, and where relevant a reduction in offending and convictions.

At Crisis we wanted to make the case for how this approach could be applied at scale to end homelessness in the UK. Working across the Liverpool City Region we have been preparing a feasibility study to demonstrate how Housing First could become the default housing offer for rough sleepers. The initial findings show that Housing First can be a more efficient way of ending homelessness but also that it is overwhelmingly supported by homeless people themselves as a better solution.

The need for a reliable supply of dispersed housing does present challenges when we are providing homes for people with often complex needs and limited experience of living in their own place. It is therefore essential that the right support for people is in place to support those individuals and reassure landlords whether in the social or private sector. Lessons from elsewhere have shown that when the support is right then the perceived risk of anti-social behaviour and damage to property is not realised.

We will use what we learn from this study across the UK to work with housing providers, both private and social, to show what can be done. We welcome the support of the whole sector in our aim to put Housing First for everyone and we’re especially grateful to companies like JLL, and others, who are working closely with us.

In fact there are many ways to support us, as JLL has shown. In addition to raising money to fund housing coaches, JLL has committed to leveraging its skills, experience and networks to support our strategic aims, including pioneering approaches like Housing First. Gemma Piggott, JLL’s UK Community Manager put it like this: “JLL is a responsible business, with a major influence in the property industry and beyond, and we have an important role to play when it comes to tackling issues like homelessness. Crisis is therefore, a natural partner for us.”

Article written by Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive of Crisis, the national charity for homeless people and JLL’s charity partner.

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