Housing first – a specialised service for people who are homeless with extreme and complex needs – has been operating in Northern Ireland since 2013.
Led by homelessness charity Depaul, the service has improved users’ physical and mental health, reduced substance misuse and helped more people keep a home.
It works by placing people in accommodation first, and then providing them with intensive support to help sustain their home.
The positive Depaul experience is not unique, according to CIH Northern Ireland director Nicola McCrudden, but more housing is required to ensure the scheme can help more people who need it.
It will also help to address the high costs associated with the traditional ways of addressing homelessness says Ms McCrudden. A new report released today by the Northern Ireland Audit Office reveals over 60% of Northern Ireland’s homelessness spend goes towards temporary accommodation services.
McCrudden said: “Homelessness is a complex issue but ultimately it is about housing. We are supportive of housing first because it places people who are homeless with complex needs in accommodation first and builds the support around them. Once people have a good housing solution, they can work towards rebuilding their lives and sustaining their home.
“This is different from the traditional route of hostels and temporary accommodation, which doesn’t always help people who have been rough sleeping and have serious health or substance misuse issues.
“We have launched a new publication today which shows that wherever housing first is used across the UK and Ireland, people are experiencing better outcomes like improved health, less substance use and ultimately keeping a roof over their heads.
“However for housing first to work for more people, adequate resources and a good supply of homes are needed – not just social housing but also private rented accommodation. We would encourage landlords with available properties to come forward if they would like to participate in the scheme.
“The human cost of homelessness is devastating. Housing first can transform lives, while also easing pressure on public spending. For every £1 invested in the Depaul service a social value of £15 is returned, representing good value for money in addition to positive outcomes.
“It’s time we explore how housing first can be used to address more chronic homelessness in Northern Ireland.”
Kerry Anthony, chief executive of Depaul, said: “In Depaul we see housing first as the best possible approach to helping people out of homelessness.
“Living day to day, week to week, month to month without the certainty of where you will sleep is chaotic and overrides any other priority.
“Housing first gives people the much needed stability of their own home first, and then supports them in making the transition from homelessness back into their own homes in the community with the appropriate wrap around services to keep them there.”