Islington Council looking to expand Housing First project as part of supported housing service shake-up

Cllr Janet Burgess.

Cllr Janet Burgess. - Credit: Archant

Islington Council is looking to expand its trial of the innovative Housing First model as part of a redesign of its supported housing service for vulnerable people.

Bosses say the current support provision has not improved enough since a review three years ago found it doesn't always help people with multiple needs to move on with their lives.

It has also not kept pace with changing demand, best practice or dealt with funding cuts.

"The existing model includes inefficiencies and inconsistencies," a report says.

The 2016 review also said for a small group of people who found it difficult to engage with the housing and treatment on offer, "all options had been exhausted".

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Issues with suitability of some buildings and complaints from neighbours of anti-social behaviour were also flagged, as was poor staffing levels from some providers.

Underlying a wide-ranging response, set to be approved by the council's top table on Thursday, is the need to make cuts. Islington currently uses five providers across 14 contracts offering 313 units of accommodation, costing £2.78million - or £10,800 for each person. If the redesign goes ahead, it will cost £2.43m a year, saving £350,000.

As part of it the council wants to expand its successful Housing First pilot, which launched this year for six people and is run by local charity Single Homeless Project (SHP). Health chief Cllr Janet Burgess said the model had proved "real value for money", and the plan is to support an initial 20 people through an in-house Housing First Support Service.

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Housing First is founded on the belief that a home is a basic human right. It gives the most vulnerable people in society an unconditional roof over their heads, rather than as a reward for engaging with services.

The idea is that the security of having a home before receiving support will give them a greater chance of recovering and rebuilding their lives.

The idea was born in New York in the 1990s and has proved successful across Europe. Islington says it would use its own council homes to house people.

"We know that a stable housing environment is the bedrock upon which other evidence based support should we built," the report adds. "A Housing First approach with an effective wrap-around support service will better enable us to provide this environment for some of our most vulnerable people."

The council states the approach would not work for everyone, as some people feel unsafe on their own or need close support to develop independent skills.

But it adds: "The pilot has demonstrated that Housing First can deliver meaningful and positive outcomes for some of the borough's most complex and vulnerable residents, where more traditional models of support have not met needs. Our analysis tells us up to 30 people could benefit from Housing First.

"In future, it is likely that the model could be scaled up further, but this needs to be in a sustainable and measured way due to the long-term and complex needs of these individuals."

Cllr Burgess told the Gazette: "It gives a wrap-around care and support to people whose lives are really difficult at the time.

"Housing First supports people mainly in accessing property but also in helping them with other parts of their lives, such as attending interviews. Once a person has somewhere to live, then they can start getting their life back on track.

"It has proved to be real value for money, in that the outcomes are generally very successful for the individuals helped.

"In the work that was done with survivors of domestic abuse, 100 per cent were helped to access benefits and substance misuse services, and a very high proportion were helped to access health services, including mental health services."

What else is in the strategy?

The council also wants to end segmentation of supported housing sites by primary need. It says it recognises people's needs are multiple and complex and may include other vulnerabilities such as domestic abuse or traumatic histories.

The number of contracts will therefore be reduced, but providers will be given more flexibility in how they operate.

"Low support" housing will be slashed due to its limited benefits and replaced by Intensive Housing Management (IHM) services, which is landlord-provided accommodation funded by housing benefit.

The report makes clear it will not remove support for anyone who needs it. All new providers will also be made to agree to offer emergency bed spaces for rough sleepers and women-only support housing will continue, with increased provision for those with complex needs.

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