We took part in a member state peer review on Housing First on 16-17 March in
Brussels, where we offered cities' perspective on this innovative method of
providing homelessness and inclusion services.
We were represented at the event, which was hosted by Belgium, by Tilde Hagen Knudtzon, chair of the EUROCITIES working group on homelessness. She explained that there is a growing interest in Housing First models in many European cities, mainly with the aim of supporting people with multiple and complex needs who do not see significant results from other standard integrated and person-centred services.
Housing First is a relatively recent innovation in social policy. The principle is that homeless people are moved into stable individual accommodation straight away, rather than offering them different temporary housing (such as shelters or other transitional accommodation). Ongoing, flexible and individual support is offered to users as well, for as long as it is needed but on voluntary basis.
The initial results are promising, but cities face several barriers in implementing or upscaling these programmes - the main one being the need to gain political support to finance them. This is because in many cases better services for homeless people create the most savings for the national, federal and regional health and other services, rather than going back into cities’ budgets.
Access to housing is another big challenge, especially because Housing First is often required in areas with high housing demand and low availability.
This peer review gathered representatives from several EU member states and two external stakeholders: EUROCITIES and the European Federation of National Organisations working with the Homeless (FEANTSA). All member state peer reviews aim to encourage an open discussion and mutual learning in social protection and social inclusion. The basis for this review was the results from a recent large Housing First social experiment, which took place in five Belgian cities.
An evaluation team compared the outcomes for tenants enrolled in the Housing First programme with homeless people relying on a traditional support after 24 months of intervention. The results show high housing retention rates and health stabilisation for Housing First tenants.
Tilde Hagen Knudtzon noted that the bottom-up approach used during these pilot programmes is of great interest to strategic developers in city administrations. She will present more on this during our upcoming study visit on Housing First in Lisbon
, which takes place on 25-27 May 2016.
The peer review discussions also highlighted the role EU institutions can play in promoting the Housing First approach among national governments, since it is becoming clear that these programmes need to become part of any effective homelessness strategy. Participants agreed that the model must be adapted to local circumstances, as well as to the differing frameworks in social protection and inclusion policies between member states. Providing manuals on Housing First in other languages in addition to English could help shorten pilot and testing phases, and support city authorities in implementing Housing First.