Islington Council launches innovative Housing First trial to help vulnerable homeless people

Wayne, who was housed under the Fulfilling Lives project. Picture: Single Homeless Project

Wayne, who was housed under the Fulfilling Lives project. Picture: Single Homeless Project - Credit: Archant

A pioneering housing model founded on the belief that a home is a basic human right is being trialled by Islington Council.

Mark Taylor. Picture: Single Homeless Project

Mark Taylor. Picture: Single Homeless Project - Credit: Archant

The town hall has included a “Housing First” pilot in its new homelessness and rough sleeping action plan, aimed at tackling the crisis in the borough.

The trial has already started, and is being delivered by the Single Homeless Project (SHP), a charity working across Islington and Camden that has had previous success with the model in both boroughs.

Housing First gives the most vulnerable people in society an unconditional roof over their heads, rather than as a reward for engaging with services or on the premise that they then do so.

The belief is it will give them the platform to recover and rebuild their lives – so alongside the new home comes intensive support. It is in stark contrast to the existing method of placing people in hostels and giving them targets before they have a chance of getting their own home. It is also cost effective, broadly, and eases the strain on emergency services and the NHS.

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The idea was born in New York in the 1990s and has proved successful across Europe. Many experts say it is not for everyone, but that it is highly effective with the right people.

The government is backing the rollout of Housing First programmes across the country. Early last year housing secretary James Brokenshire (now the local government secretary) announced a £28million pilot for Greater Manchester, Liverpool and the West Midlands.

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That followed calls from the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) for it to be rolled out nationally.

As well as an original programme in Camden in 2012, SHP has run a pilot as part of its “Fulfilling Lives in Islington and Camden” lottery funded project and now has schemes in Newham and Redbridge too.

One of the people housed on the Fulfilling Lives programme was Wayne, 54, who made huge progress once being given a stable home.

“It’s the only scheme I’ve been offered which has been realistic,” he said. “It’s helped me to build my self-esteem and tackle my mental health issues, and it’s acted as a deterrent to stop crime and drugs.

“Having a postcode means you belong. For 35 years, I was just in the way, but I feel like part of society again.”

What’s all the more innovative about the Islington trial is that the town hall is using its own housing stock, rather than turning to the private-rented sector as most have to do.

That does, however, bring added pressures. We are in the middle of a housing crisis and in Islington there are 14,000 people on the list for a social rent home, 760 of whom are in temporary accommodation. Officially there are 43 rough sleepers on the borough’s streets.

Mark Taylor is assistant services director at SHP and commissioned the UK’s first Housing First programme in Camden while working for its council.

He said: “Because of the model and the fact we are using a precious resource [housing], there is a pressure to show it works. The people in the trial have chaotic histories with substance misuse and possibly offending and there’s always a political question of who the homes should be used for.

“But these guys have vulnerabilities and demands and have an impact on communities in terms of their behaviour. They place demand on health services and there is a cost benefit to be looked at. This is a good way of addressing their needs. They often respond to that.”

Difficulties in convincing private landlords to let their homes to vulnerable people is one obstacle stopping a wider rollout, but the biggest by far is the lack of homes in general. “There’s no shortage of will and enthusiasm,” said Mark. “There’s just a shortage of homes.”

Camden’s current Housing First project, run by St Mungo’s, has 44 people on it, and Mark says the figures for any projects are unlikely to go above that anytime soon. He also emphasised it takes at least 18 months before any real results can be reached. For example, only three of the five people on Islington’s trial have so far been given housing.

“These people are incredibly hard to reach and they have complex needs,” he added. “You think: ‘Oh they’re getting a house, it’s a wonderful idea’, but they don’t necessarily see it that way.”

But Mark points to Finland – which has seen such a huge reduction in rough sleeping thanks to Housing First it could soon be eradicated – as an example of how successful it can be long-term.

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