Housing First may be ‘sexy’ but its dangerous and ill-conceived

Housing First is everywhere. It is the latest ‘sexy’ idea being promoted as THE panacea for single homelessness and I have grave concerns over the slapdash way it is being so eagerly promoted and also what it is hiding as its real agenda.

HF in theory is very laudable and I have direct professional experience of setting up limited Housing First schemes and also seen larger scale models of it in operation in the USA and also followed reports and research on it for many years. I am thus very much in favour of the model(s) in principle yet I have major concerns over

(a) the appallingly lax consideration of what it means in UK practical terms,

(b) the effusive superficiality given to HF by its current champions,

(c) the many other agendas at play most notably the alleged cost savings that have been claimed for it,

… and most important of all, how all these factors will undoubtedly and inevitably lead to a much reduced and much inferior overall homeless service being provided and delivered and make the homelessness ‘problem’ much worse.

Homelessness is a huge area and a very complex one and no magic cure can appear out of the ether to solve it.  The Foyer model as lauded as a panacea by the Blair government and has been tried and with no discernible positive impact.  We had in Dame Louise Casey, a rough sleeper czar who then became the troubled families czar and was knighted for these ‘sexy’ initiatives yet rough sleeping has increased 134% since 2010 and the less said of the Troubled Families scheme the better!

Louise Casey like David Lord Freud was a Blairite appointment who then was retained by the Conservatives.  Oh look this is cross-party and apolitical approach to the scourge of homelessness … and that hasn’t worked either!  And know we even have dead woman walking Theresa May herself discussing Housing First out of desperation and large scale ignorance of what Housing First is and would mean.

Denn eben wo Begriffe fehlen da stellt ein Wort zur rechten Zeit sich ein

This quote by Goethe translates as when ideas fail, words comes in to save the situation and in this case those words are Housing First, the latest sexy idea of the great and good who are all desperate to appear to be doing something and have that superficial appearance as their key priority just as they did with Foyers and No Second Night Out and so many other sexy yet superficial homeless solutions that have failed.

Just as they did with the Third Way and Communitarianism and Troubled Families and Austerity and other sexy words given to ideological solutions to problems that government and politicians fail to even scratch the surface of in their understanding of those problems.

Austerity creates increased homelessness systemically just as lack of social housebuilding has just as ‘get on your bike and look for work’ did when Tebbit said it all those years ago and created much more homelessness in seaside towns in the UK by it which in turn created much more insecure private rented bedsits in those locales and still to this day we see in seaside towns a far higher rate of HB claimants there in the PRS than in any other village, ton or city across the UK.

In short there is a fundamental lack of defining what the UK homelessness problems are in the first place before imposing political panaceas to solve them – and in the case of Housing First even fundamental practical problems such as where are the properties in which to place homeless persons first without conditionality are available.

Added to this political ineptitude is the all pervasive bottom line cost which as per usual in only seen in the immediate term by budget holders in central and especially local government and even with this I today read that research into a large scale Housing First system across the Liverpool City Region will cost £242 per single homeless person per week in an area with a 1 bed LHA rate of £90 per week and scant mention of how the LHA Maxima Cap to start in April 2019 will impact.

Proposing a Housing First solution across the LCR region when only 37% of its estimated costs can be assured (£90 of £242 pw) aptly shows the dangerous lack of thought that goes into such proposals for all involved and also reveals that the belief of those who propose it is so so misplaced in its theory.  By all means put in cultural support and champion and promote better solutions but not when the tap can be turned off on a whim even if all that investment in all forms of support provides positive results.

The LCR devolved government does not even have control over that additional ‘support’ monies of £152 per person per week (£242 – £90) which resides with each of the six individual local authorities who make up the Liverpool City Region! Some of those six LAs have in-house support services that they will prioritise over NIMBY homeless services and all will prioritise support funding for older peoples services over single homeless ones with the deserving over undeserving errant perception being to the fore.

Back to practical matters and very important ones for the Liverpool City Region Housing First proposal which I now find that the LCR Mayor Steve Rotheram has been all over the local TV media today advocating.  Across England 28% of all social housing properties are 1 bedroom according to the English Housing Survey yet in Merseyside this is only 15% (16.4% in Liverpool to just 12.4% in St Helens) so quite how 1 bed properties will be available for any form of Housing First idea beggars belief.

A classic example of when cultural shift becomes Cloud Cuckoo like thinking!

A classic example of politicians of wanting to appear to be doing something yet what they are doing is wholly counter-productive if not dangerous.

A classic example of the fur coat and no knickers approach that is always taken towards solving homelessness

The LCR Housing First research report can be accessed here which in typical journalistic hyperbole is called is the radical Housing First plan a way to deal with Liverpool’s increasing homelessness problem – increasing because Liverpool has the current sexy homeless panacea of No Second Night Out – and to which the answer has to be no no no given the issues I have barely touched upon above.  It reads:

A radical new plan is being put forward to deal with the growing issue of homelessness across the region. Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram and homeless charity Crisis are calling for the introduction of a new ‘Housing First’ initiative, which focuses on getting the most vulnerable people and long-term rough sleepers into homes as quickly as possible and providing them with personalised visiting support. A new report by Crisis suggests that the plan should be piloted in the Liverpool city region first – but could eventually change the way rough sleepers are dealt with across the country.

It also reveals just how blind that Crisis are to the variables of the Liverpool City Region – the key variables such as it has around 50% of the 1 bed properties of the English average so quite how Liverpool should be a pilot area with that critical constraint shows how incompetently Crisis is viewing the issue.

It also reveals how naive and incompetent and easily swayed Steve Rotheram is in this area with the usual appearing to do something far more critical than actually doing so!  The Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson has called Steve Rotheram (the Liverpool City Region Mayor) naive over homelessness, then again Joe Anderson loves the failing No Second Night Out which has seen dramatic increases in rough sleeping in Liverpool that I reported on here.

Yes that’s right reader, political squabbles take far greater priority than actually attempting to solve the many crises in homelessness … plus ca change!

One final point that really does need to be hammered home is the incredulous naivety of Crisis, the national single homeless charity.  Housing First can work and can work very well IF it is done properly and considers all the many complex variables as I know all too well.  So for Crisis to be pushing like crazy for Liverpool to be a pilot area for Housing First when Liverpool and the Liverpool City Region has twice the difficulty in finding the 1 bed properties needed for Housing First to work in any shape or form is incredulous.

If LCR goes ahead as the main pilot area for Housing First, then Housing First will undoubtedly and inevitably fail and that would be a great shame






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