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Home > Stakeholder views on housing-led services for homeless people.

Keane, Martin (2013) Stakeholder views on housing-led services for homeless people. Drugnet Ireland , Issue 47, Autumn 2013 , pp. 25-26.

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The Simon Community commissioned exploratory research to assess whether housing-led services would represent an improvement on existing practice in delivering services to homeless people in Ireland. The results of that research have now been published.1 According to the authors, ‘housing-led services are “housing-led “because the first thing they do is place a person who is homeless into permanent or settled accommodation and because the support they provide is mainly delivered within that accommodation. …A housing-led service is also characterised by following a specific philosophy that promotes choice and control for people who are homeless’ (p.8); and ‘housing-led services follow a harm reduction approach with a recovery orientation’ (p.9).

 

Fieldwork and data collection for this research included nine focus groups with 27 participants (21 males) who were or had recently been homeless, including 19 people who were or had been entrenched rough sleepers, i.e. people with high and multiple support needs who had sustained experience of sleeping rough. In addition, data were collected from 17 service providers working with the Simon Communities. Fieldwork with these groups was spread across Cork, Dublin, Dundalk, Letterkenny and Sligo. In addition, seven organisations working in the homeless sector responded to a detailed questionnaire. Emerging findings from all fieldwork and collation of data were discussed with participants from across government and the homeless sector prior to publication of the report.
 
Awareness of what the housing-led approach means was reported as high among service providers. Service users were not as aware of what the approach entailed, but, when it was explained, the idea of having their own ‘home’ was popular among them. There was consensus among service providers that simply providing housing to people with long histories of homelessness who might have high support needs, such as mental health and addiction issues, was unlikely to result in positive outcomes. Appropriate types and levels of support with housing were deemed to provide an effective response.
 
The main concern expressed by all participants was the insufficient supply of adequate and affordable housing for housing-led services to work effectively. Difficulty in accessing social housing due to a lack of new supply and barriers in the process of allocating the existing supply were cited as particular limitations.
 
Concerns were also expressed by all participants about the affordability of housing in the private rented sector. Restrictions on the amount paid to social welfare claimants through rent supplement meant that people were unable to meet the relatively high rents being charged in the private sector without having to ‘top-up’ from the remaining portion of their welfare payments. Also, the poor standard of some of the affordable private rented accommodation was cited as a concern. It was reported that some private landlords were reluctant to accommodate people with a history of homelessness as these people were perceived to be ‘risky’ tenants. In addition, in a social context where the need for private rented accommodation is growing among the general population, people with experience of homelessness are often the least preferred tenants by some private landlords.
 
People with experience of homelessness expressed a preference to be housed in social housing, which they believed provided more flexibility and stability in the longer term and was more suitable to their needs; this view was shared by service providers. These views are pertinent given that the housing-led approach is dependent, for the most part, on the immediate provision of a settled home in the community.
 
Some attractive features of the housing-led approach are that it offers people independence, choice and control to a greater extent than alternative models. Participants felt that while most people who become homeless in Ireland might wish to live independently in their own home with modest support, housing-led services were not the answer for people with high-support needs. Factors cited to elaborate on this view included a belief that some people who had experiences of long-term homelessness were also affected by their experiences in industrial schools, which in some cases led to them experiencing institutionalisation. It was felt, particularly by those with experience of homelessness that living independently without the appropriate level of support and access to meaningful daytime activities such as employment, training and education could lead to mental illness and/or relapse to problematic use of alcohol and drugs.
 
Joint working through case management to offer a package of supports is often seen as an integral part of delivering an effective housing-led model. The views expressed by service providers suggest that access to welfare benefits and to health and social services, as well as to specialist addiction and mental health services, is currently restricted for people experiencing homeless. These restrictions have arisen due to changes to the levels and eligibility rules for welfare benefits. Restricted access to health and other social services, primarily due to cuts in service provision, is seen to compromise efforts by the homeless sector to resettle homeless people; people with experience of homelessness and who are trying to live independently in the community are also adversely affected by these restrictions. Service providers also reported problems around mental health services not working with people with drug and alcohol problems and alcohol and drug services not working with people with mental health problems. These concerns regarding the fragmented nature of service provision may have implications for the inclusion of an integrated package of services for homeless people as part of the current Housing First Demonstration Project (HFDP) being operated in Dublin, as, ‘all forms of housing-led services are reliant to at least some degree on joint working with the welfare systems and health, social care and mental health services’ (p.27).
 
Service providers were sceptical of what they perceived as the official policy view, that housing-led services could be delivered as low-cost, low-intensity and short-term interventions to assist homeless people. On the contrary, they emphasised that the homeless population was not an homogenous group, rather homelessness was experienced by different people for different reasons and with different types and levels of support needs. There was consensus among service providers and homeless people that the sector needed to retain a broad mix of options to cater for the diverse needs of homeless people.
 
While the idea of housing-led services in Ireland was generally welcomed and endorsed by participants in this research, it is clear that, from both standpoints, housing-led services are not currently seen as a panacea for the problem of homelessness and its associated issues. The reservations expressed by participants centre around the view that responses to homelessness involve more than just providing housing in the form of ‘bricks and mortar’. Effective responses need to include housing alongside appropriate support, especially for people with high-support needs. In addition, participants in this research cautioned against providing housing as an individual unit of residence for some homeless people, instead it was suggested that communal residential housing with appropriate support might be more suitable for people with personal biographies that include sustained periods of time spent in institutions and homelessness. The divergent views expressed by participants in this exploratory study are not wholly different from the academic perspective which underpins a critical analysis of the suitability of the housing-led approach as a ‘solution’ to the often intractable problem that is homelessness. According to the authors,
the consensus of the academic research is broadly similar – housing-led services are very effective at ending homelessness among people with high needs and sustained experience of homelessness, but that while some other gains in well-being are being achieved, these services are not necessarily fully meeting all associated support needs or successful with everyone they try to work with. (p.31)
 
 
1.   Pleace N and Bretherton J (2013) Finding the way home: housing-led responses and the homelessness strategy in Ireland. Dublin: Simon Communities of Ireland. www.drugsandalcohol.ie/20183
Item Type
Article
Issue Title
Issue 47, Autumn 2013
Date
October 2013
Page Range
pp. 25-26
Publisher
Health Research Board
Volume
Issue 47, Autumn 2013
EndNote
Accession Number
HRB (Electronic Only)

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