Housing First Concept

What exactly does “housing first” mean?

Homelessness - Housing FirstFrom the “Homeless Hub” – ‘Housing First’ is a recovery-oriented approach to ending homelessness that centers on quickly moving people experiencing homelessness into independent and permanent housing and then providing additional supports and services as needed. It is an approach first popularized by Sam Tsemberis and Pathways to Housing in New York in the 1990s, though there were Housing First-like programs emerging elsewhere, including Canada (HouseLink in Toronto) prior to this time. The basic underlying principle of Housing First is that people are better able to move forward with their lives if they are first housed. This is as true for people experiencing homelessness and those with mental health and addictions issues as it is for anyone. Housing is provided first and then supports are provided including physical and mental health, education, employment, substance abuse and community connections.

What are five core principles of Housing First? (Paraphrased by me)

1. Immediate access to permanent housing with no housing readiness requirements.  Key to the Housing First philosophy is that individuals and families are not required to first demonstrate that they are ‘ready’ for housing. Housing is not conditional on sobriety or abstinence. Program participation is also voluntary.

2. Consumer choice and self-determination. Housing First is a rights-based, client-centred approach that emphasizes client choice in terms of housing and supports – neighbourhood, scattered etc. as well as what services they receive.

3. Recovery orientation. A recovery orientation focuses on individual well-being, and ensures that clients have access to a range of supports that enable them to nurture and maintain social, recreational, educational, occupational and vocational activities, and to live in a “harm reduction environment”, as they choose.

4. Individualized and client-driven supports. A client-driven approach recognizes that individuals are unique, and so are their needs. Once housed, some people will need minimum supports while other people will need supports for the rest of their lives (this could range from case management to assertive community treatment). Individuals should be provided with “a range of treatment and support services that are voluntary, individualized, culturally-appropriate, and portable (e.g. in mental health, substance use, physical health, employment, education)” (Goering et al., 2012:12). Supports may address housing stability, health and mental health needs, and life skills. They shouldn’t pay more than 30% of their income on rent and have access to supports, as needed.

5. Social and community integration. Part of the Housing First strategy is to help people integrate into their community and this requires socially supportive engagement and the opportunity to participate in meaningful activities. If people are housed and become or remain socially isolated, the stability of their housing may be compromised. Key features of social and community integration include things like – Housing models that do not stigmatize or isolate clients, as well as provide opportunities for social and cultural engagement are supported through employment, vocational and recreational activities.

To get a thorough explanation, visit their website here:  http://homelesshub.ca/solutions/housing-accommodation-and-supports/housing-first

What kind of housing could be offered?

A key principle of Housing First is Consumer Choice and Self-Determination.

In other words, people should have some kind of choice as to what kind of housing they receive, and where it is located.

  • scattered-site housing (in private apartments or condos)
  • congregate models of housing (with-on call support)
  • social housing (in places where there is no stigma attached)
  • Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH), a more integrated model of housing and services for individuals with complex and co-occurring issues where the clinical services and landlord role are performed by the same organization.

What kind of Supports Would be Offered?

  1.  Housing supports
  2. Clinical supports
  3. Complementary Supports

These are adapted from the At Home / Chez Soi project.

Can Vancouver do this?

Yes, they can.  It is always now considered “best practice” and it is better than letting people who have been released from a mental hospital and who aren’t in the position to take care of themselves, left to their own devices.  Or people who are addicted on the street, where they will end up visiting the ER room after one emergency after another. Let’s house people first and then work on rehabilitation and allowing them to graduate and look after themselves. Of course with the help of the provincial and federal government.

It was Mahatma Ghandi who said “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.”

The Housing First in Canada book highlights eight Canadian case studies that attest to Housing First’s general effectiveness, especially when compared to ‘treatment first’ approaches.