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More than a Roof – Sophie Boobis

The trauma of long-term homelessness, poverty and social exclusion means there is a small but significant cohort of people whose needs consistently go unmet by traditional homelessness services. These individuals typically have significantly worse physical and mental health compared to not only the general public but also other people experiencing homelessness. Their lives are often marked by cycles of rough sleeping, temporary accommodation, prison stays and hospital admissions as their health and social care needs worsen, and offending behaviour feeds survival needs.  

For these individuals, Housing First can help break the cycle of repeat homelessness, acting as a transformative and often lifesaving intervention. 

The Housing First model is a distinct service design in which people with multiple, intersecting needs are provided with a secure tenancy and flexible, wrap-around support for as long as it is needed.  

Key to the approach is the separation of housing from that support, meaning that in Housing First you don’t lose your house because you aren’t engaging with services, which can happen in some traditional homelessness provision. Instead, both tenancy and support are open-ended giving people a stable home from which to rebuild their lives.  

New research from Homeless Link has found that the benefits are remarkable and widely felt. For example, being engaged with a Housing First programme for three years leads to: 

  • A decrease in their likelihood of attending A&E from 59% to 38% 
  • A decrease in their likelihood of admission to hospital from 38% to 18% 
  • A decrease in the proportion of people presenting a safeguarding concern from 50.2% at the point of entry into Housing First to 31.8% by the end of the third year.  
  • An increase in the likelihood of accessing primary health care through a GP from 50% to 89% 
  • A decreased involvement in antisocial and offending behaviours from 84% to 45%  

The research not only shows the benefit for individuals but also how these benefits are spread across public services. Housing First works – both as an effective approach to reducing homelessness and improving health and social care outcomes but also as a cost-effective intervention to reduce pressures on housing, health, social care, and criminal justice services.  

But perhaps most importantly Housing First shows people with histories of complex trauma and instability building a sense of home, agency and self-worth. Findings from the research shows how the long-term, flexible approach leads to positive engagement with society and improved quality of life, at the same time as substance misuse and anti-social behaviour reduces, motivated by wanting to maintain their tenancies.  

The benefits of Housing First are enormous and you can find out more, as well as the enablers and challenges to delivering Housing First in Homeless Link’s research “More than a Roof”.  

Sophie Boobis is the Head of Policy and Research at Homeless Link. Homeless Link is one of Homewards’ 16 Sector Partners.