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Housing First - a new deal for homeless people in Cambridge

News release from 07/03/2019

CAMBRIDGE City Council, in partnership with Cambridgeshire County Council, is to introduce a pioneering new deal for vulnerably-housed and homeless people in the city, which gives them a quicker and more effective route out of homelessness. 

The new deal – known as Housing First – takes a different approach to getting people off the street from the standard one used for decades. 

Until recently, the standard approach to helping rough sleepers has been a phased one.  People go into first-stage accommodation, usually a short-term assessment centre or night shelter.  From there they go into a hostel and then, when they are able to live independently, into a place of their own.  This is called the Housing Ready approach and it works for some people.

However, many of the approaches currently in place are now considered out of date and have the potential to lock people in to a cycle of homelessness and temporary accommodation. The council is looking at opportunities to explore new models and ways of working to enable it to provide the best outcomes it can with its partners and with the funding available.

Housing First turns Housing Ready on its head, getting people straight from the streets into their own tenancy – literally from pavement to apartment – without necessarily spending any time in a hostel. 

Housing First removes the barriers to getting a home, with the only key requirement being a willingness to sign a tenancy agreement.  Crucially, high-quality person-centred support is offered in the home for as long as it is needed, as agreed between the tenant and the support workers.

Starting in the United States before being picked up in Europe (most notably in Finland), Housing First has achieved good results where the conventional approach has failed. Most schemes reported a reduction in residents’ drug or alcohol use and anti-social behaviour, coupled with an improvement in their physical and mental health.

The Cambridge Housing First programme is ambitious and includes some novel elements.  In a partnership arrangement between the city council and the county council, an ambitious target to have ten vacancies filled by October 2019 has been set, and a dedicated worker has been employed. 

Proposals are also being developed to build six cluster units comprising two self-contained Housing First flats and one flat for a caretaker.  The first of these should be ready in 2020.  

It is also hoped that local businesses and individual property owners will also offer to lease privately owned homes for Housing First, to be managed by the city council’s social letting agency, Town Hall Lettings.  Anyone interested in working with the council in this way should contact townhall.lettings@cambridge.gov.uk 

Commenting on the project, Cllr Richard Johnson, Executive Councillor for Housing at Cambridge City Council, said: “Housing First is a new deal for people on the streets of Cambridge, and I am delighted to be executive councillor at a time when something genuinely different, and potentially hugely effective, is being tried. 

“The hostel model works for a lot of people and hostels employ hard-working and committed people.  But many, if not most, of the people we see on our streets have already been through the hostel system – some many times over. 

Housing First will not work for everyone, and initially, until properly evaluated, may not be available for everyone it might benefit.  But it does give us the chance to help change the lives of people who don’t want what has formerly been on offer.  That is something worth investing in.”

Cllr Anna Bailey, Chairwoman of the Adults Committee at Cambridgeshire County Council, said: “We’re very excited to be working with Cambridge City Council on Housing First.

“There’s strong evidence across the UK and internationally that it can help people gain greater resilience, independence and stability in their lives, taking them out of crisis. By providing stable accommodation we can provide people with a foundation to begin to address their other needs and issues, giving access to flexible and personalised support in their homes and communities.

“This approach can benefit the whole of Cambridgeshire and we are exploring Housing First and other models to make sure we get the right approach to fit different parts of the county.”