Housing First Academy Blog

When I joined the Housing Options and Homeless Service 5 years ago, ostensibly for a 12 month secondment to undertake a review of Homeless Temporary Accommodation within the region, I little knew that I would still be here 5 years later writing a blog about our journey to Housing First.

At that time, Housing First was a fairly new concept in the UK.  It was something that was working in urban environments targeted at those sleeping on the streets how would it translate to a rural area such as ours?  Homelessness was still viewed as a standalone issue, services worked in silos and as a stock transfer authority we had no housing stock of our own to work with.  The development of Integration Joint Boards was also taking place and until those were bedded in, how could we fully develop joint working practices?

Along came Rapid Rehousing Transition Plans and the need to take a closer look at Housing First. What would make a sustainable model for Housing First in such a rural environment? How would we develop the buy-in and how would we fund it?  Did we have the demand for such a project? 

So many questions, and as such we decided we needed time to develop networks and would take the learning from the early pilot projects to help us develop a sustainable model. In short, trying to introduce Housing First at that point would have been like trying to build a house on sand.

Fast forward to 2020, many things have changed in the intervening time period, not least the Covid-19 pandemic.  We now had an RRTP lead officer within the Health and Social Care Partnership and we were starting to build those closer working relationships. Out of necessity, services have started to break down some of the traditional barriers which prevented joint working. We looked at the information coming out of pilot projects and gathered information from other local authority’s around their experience.

The key things we took from this were:

·         Get the right people around the table. By this I mean those who could make decisions on their service’s behalf.

·         A short life working group had to be just that – it was important to keep the momentum going

·         A clear understanding of the demographic and needs in the local area are key

·         As a stock transfer authority, we needed buy in from one or more of our Registered Social Landlords

·         Develop the funding model early. Our clear vision was that we did not want to use any transitional funding (even during the pilot) – we needed a funding commitment that was going to work longer term.

·         Develop governance, referral pathways and agreements around information sharing prior to the service going live.

·         Talk to anyone and everyone about what you are trying to do!

Sounds easy – doesn’t’ it?

In reality some of it was easier than others.  Here are my observations on our experience:

1.                   Networking and talking to people about Housing First and raising awareness of the success of it across the world is important.  Go out there, take every opportunity you can to raise interest. We did a lot of this at all levels. But make sure you know your subject and gauge your audience. Most of all let your enthusiasm shine through – it really helps.

2.                   Get a working group going as quickly as possible. Don’t make it too big – quality not quantity is key if you want to move thing forward at pace.

3.                   Have the hard discussions early – don’t shy away from the elephant in the room that is funding.  After all you can’t achieve anything without it!  It can be quite a hard sell, so it is important to emphasis the improved outcomes for service users and the reduction in pressure on already stretched services. We undertook an exercise looking at the nominal costs associated with some of our entrenched homeless clients – this helped get across to services how much was being spent locally being reactive and the benefits that could be realised by being more proactive.

4.                   Deal with the Governance arrangements. The key members of the working group will be required to ensure any proposal goes through the required Governance route within their service. This can take time so should be raised early so that the necessary arrangements can be put in place and timescales agreed.

5.                   Develop the Service Specification.  In our case as we were going out to Tender it was important to get this agreed and to set a realistic timeline.

6.                   One of the big questions was around information sharing. We had services around the table from H&SC, Police Scotland, Scottish Prison Service, Registered Social Landlords and the Local Authority.  One of the early tasks for members of the working group was developing and obtaining approval of a Memorandum of Understanding through their own Governance route as mentioned above.

7.                   Having buy-in from housing providers is essential. An early win was the willingness of Dumfries & Galloway Housing Partnership as part of the Wheatley Group coming on board and committing to the supply of 20 properties throughout the life of the 2 year pilot.  They are now one of the key partners in the project and have brought a wealth of advice and experience to the table.

If you can get these key things in place then you can start to address some of the more in-depth questions. 

For example: one of key areas of development for us was input to the project from mental health and/or addiction services.  As a working group we decide we wanted to include a full-time Mental Health Support Worker post which would be funded by the NHS.  Luckily for us the lead officer for the RRTP within the H&SCP was able to lead on developing this funding request.  As part of this, we found ourselves being invited to the Mental Health Directorate Senior Management Team to discuss Housing First and what the inclusion of this post could bring.

 I can only say that we must have talked a good talk: the management team decided that what was actually needed was the input of a Community Psychiatric Nurse and we were sent off to rejig our proposals. In the end, we now have a model which has input from 5 CPNs for a few hours per week. This gives us access to specialised support around mental health, drug and alcohol addictions and the local prison health care team. It has also enhanced our ability to link service users into key services early and whilst it is early days, it is showing a lot of promise.

In the early discussions around Housing First we got quite hung-up on the rurality issue and how to provide a service across such a large area. In reality this has become a bit of a non-issue. Looking closely at the demand it has become clear that focussing Housing First within our main towns is what is required. This makes the provision of a sustainable longer-term service an achievable aim with the right funding and commitment from all partners.

In conclusion, I would say, getting those building blocks in place early makes so much sense.  For us,  It has meant that as the project has gone live, the structures are in place to dealing with most eventualities.  Don’t underestimate the time and commitment needed to do this, and don’t be tempted to cut it short– it will pay dividends in the end. 

Our service has been live since 1st August 2021.  With Turning Point Scotland now engaged at the support service provider the partnership continues to evolve and use learning and experience from elsewhere. The partners involved have developed a close and cohesive working relationship which is helping to ensure positive outcomes for the service users. The groundwork and strong foundations put in place early have been key. ​​​​​

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