Housing First Blog: Andy Street

Off the back of World Homeless Day yesterday, and our week of content alongside Wolverhampton Homes to highlight the success of the Housing First pilot project, here is a blog from Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street.

Housing First rollout must continue

As you lie in bed at night after a long day at work, it really is incredibly easy to take the roof over your head for granted. As well as shelter, our homes give us the ability to set up a bank account, register to vote, and register with a GP. We can have friends over to visit, cook our own meals, and choose how to decorate. A safe and secure home enables us all to live our own lives and be well. These may seem like the most basic of human rights, but without a permanent address it is difficult to achieve any of them. 

As Mayor of the West Midlands, rough sleeping and entrenched homelessness is sadly no stranger to me. I’ve seen it in our region and know there is a moral imperative to help our communities’ most vulnerable. I made it a priority when first entering office in 2017, and alongside Manchester and Liverpool we took part in a Government-funded initiative to help make it happen – Housing First. Pioneered in New York in 1992, it has since been widely adopted in the USA and become central to the national homelessness strategies in Canada, Denmark, Finland and France, demonstrating widespread success. 

Housing First does exactly what it says on the tin – it prioritises people who are in the greatest need to have a home of their own and to start the journey of recovery and living their life again. People who street sleep or have long term experiences of homelessness often have multiple and complex needs, including poor health and trauma. The person centred and well-resourced support that Housing First provides is critical to making this fresh start one where people have a chance to really succeed. 

The success of the scheme in the West Midlands has been unquestionable. Across the region more than 480 people have now been supported off our streets.  This has been demonstrated extremely positively within Wolverhampton thanks to the work of Wolverhampton Homes and the Good Shepherd. The target of housing 44 people during the pilot scheme has already been reached and the impact on those benefitting from the initiative has been substantial.  

People dealing with addictions to alcohol and drugs have made major steps forward, many on the Housing First programme have reconnected with families after a previous lack of contact and several have taken up volunteering opportunities. Five of those registered in the Housing First programme in Wolverhampton took part in the recent art exhibition marking Recovery Month at the Light House Cinema and Mander Centre either by contributing pieces of work to be displayed or being included in the accompanying magazine. It is fair to say that Housing First is representing a turning point in the lives of so many people. 

It’s also a truly collaborative scheme, with local authorities, the Department of Work and Pensions, housing associations, and the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, all playing crucial roles in both getting rough sleepers off the street and into a home of their own, and ensuring they have all the support they need to access and retain their tenancy. Housing First is a solution that puts the individual and the support they want and need at the forefront. 

For the number crunchers, the maths adds up too. Research on the three pilots in the West Midlands, Manchester, and Liverpool from the Centre for Social Justice found that where an estimated £9,683 is spent annually per average on a Housing First client, £15,073 is saved on other immediate bills including homelessness services, the NHS, mental health services, and drug and alcohol support. This means that for each £1 spent there is an overall saving on the cost of service provision of £1.56. 

Over the last four years we’ve proven that Housing First works, and now we need to secure its long-term future. Currently the Government’s funding ends, in some other parts of the UK, as soon as March 2022. But the people in our Housing First schemes will still need our support past that date, and there are sadly other people who will end up on the streets that will need our help. That’s why I am united with my Mayoral colleagues in Manchester and Liverpool, across the political divide, in asking the Government to continue doing what makes sense, and use the Comprehensive Spending Review this autumn to commit to continue funding Housing First. After the success of their ‘Everyone In’ initiative to protect society’s most vulnerable during the pandemic, we are confident they will do the right thing. 

By helping to break the perpetual cycle of vulnerability and homelessness, Housing First is changing lives both in Wolverhampton and across the entire West Midlands. Now we must continue to build on that – both in our region and across the country. As Mayor, I stand ready to help the Government make that happen. 

Andy Street,

West Midlands Mayor. 

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