20 February 2015

Brighton and Hove to adopt new method to tackle street homelessness

Brighton & Hove City Council is set to become the first local authority in Britain to commission a Housing First project to tackle street homelessness and stop the revolving door of rehabilitation, hostel and street.

Developed in New York in the 1990s, Housing First is designed to work with long-term and repeatedly homeless men and women, most of whom have complex needs relating to addiction, poor mental health, learning disability and domestic abuse. Many have been through the criminal justice system and have a background of institutional care and traumatic life events.

The right to permanent accommodation is at the heart of the model. Identified rough sleepers are placed straight into scattered, self-contained flats away from their old associations. Taking the chaos out of homelessness makes it easier to stabilise the situation with an intensive package of care and support designed to surround the service user helping him or her to settle in, gain independence and sustain their tenancy.

Brighton and Hove is one of eight English local authorities that have piloted Housing First, which has been extended until March. The service was delivered in the city by CRI.

In September 2013 a mix of 10 clients was identified as suitable for the pilot scheme.  Some were not coping in hostels. Others were sleeping rough. The clients were placed in scattered properties in the city, leased through the council.  

Three were referred for further support. So far they have all have remained in their homes, reduced their chaotic behaviour and are living independently with a good level of self- care. They have been able to avoid the temptation to reconnect with their old homeless network through their support from Housing First recovery mentors.

With their help, service users have built an alternative structure through community activities, counselling, art therapy and training. The programme demands only that service users pay rent, abide by the tenancy conditions and agree to engage with their support workers.

In the words of one of our clients, Jane: ‘This flat is the best thing that has happened. You saved me from rough sleeping again, you saved my life. I can’t live in hostels with the noise and problems of people knocking on your door all day and night. I like this flat. No problems here at all. The neighbours are nice and it’s really quiet. I like to stay in and I’m not bothered about going out to drink with people on the street like I used to, where I would get into trouble with the police.’

Chair of Housing for Brighton & Hove City Council, Councillor Bill Randall, said:  “Some people with complex needs often find life in hostels very difficult.  Having to share with a range of residents, obey house rules and follow a structured route to recovery can be very stressful and lead to conflict and, too often, eviction. The immediate placement cuts out the ‘staircase’ of stages that people with such complex needs often have to meet before they are ‘housing ready’. Housing First is a very useful addition to the portfolio of measures we use to deal with homelessness in the city.”