St Mungo’s | Stop The Scandal – The case for action on mental health and rough sleeping

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St Mungo's: Stop The Scandal

Today, St Mungo’s released the second part of their investigation into mental health and rough sleeping, as part of our Stop the Scandal campaign. We wanted to find out what specialist mental health services are commissioned to help people who sleep rough. What we discovered was deeply disturbing.

Only a third of areas with 10 or more people sleeping rough have mental health services that are designed to reach them. This is simply not good enough.

We all know that rough sleeping is dangerous and ruins lives – people who sleep rough with mental health problems are 50% more likely to get stuck on the streets. Out of the clients we spoke to, many had mental problems when they found themselves on the streets, and most told us that their mental health got worse as a result of sleeping rough.

We worked with our clients to develop a set of five principles to inform how services working with people sleeping rough with a mental health problem should be commissioned and delivered.

Services must be: accessible, attentive, understanding, caring and persistent.

This afternoon, they’ll be sharing the findings of our report at a Parliamentary event with Ministers from the Department of Health and Communities and Local Government, calling on them to ensure that mental health services that embody these principles are commissioned as a matter of urgency.

Not only that, but our clients will also be asking to meet with Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Health, to discuss their first-hand experiences of sleeping rough.

In the meantime, read St Mungo’s report: Stop The Scandal – The case for action on mental health and rough sleeping

Exeter City Council continuing to tackle homelessness in Exeter

Exeter City Council continuing to tackle homelessness in Exeter


>Exeter City Council today reaffirmed its commitment to tackling homelessness in the city.

The Council has been working closely with a wide range of partners to reduce the numbers of people sleeping on the streets.

Cllr Emma Morse, Lead Councillor for Customer Access, said: “At one point a few months ago, we estimated that there were around 60 people sleeping on the streets but we have been working with our Outreach Team from Julian House and other partners, and the annual return now confirms this figure has been reduced to 41.

“Just in the last quarter, we have had good outcomes reconnecting 12 people back into homes in other areas. This is a positive sign that by working together, we can begin to make a difference.”

Cllr Morse said that whilst the ultimate aim was to end rough sleeping in the city, this was a challenging national issue, with cities such as Bristol and Oxford seeing an increase in numbers over recent years.

In 2014, the official number sleeping on the streets in Bristol was 41, but in 2015 this was up to 97, an increase of 137%.

Oxford has also seen a rise in the number of homeless people sleeping rough on city streets in the last year. During an annual count in 2015, 39 people were found sleeping on the streets of Oxford, up by 50% from 26 in 2014.

“We can’t be complacent,” said Cllr Morse, “We must continue to reach out to those without a home or who find it difficult to maintain their accommodation.”

With weather conditions getting colder, the City Council is looking to open a new night shelter in the city in preparation for the winter months. A potential building has been identified in Market Street after a long search supported by the Express & Echo. However Planning permission is needed for change of use as it is currently a retail premises. This decision will be considered by the Council’s Planning Committee for a change of use.

If given the go-ahead, the City Council will work closely with Devon County Council, East Devon District Council, NHS, Devon and Cornwall Police and local providers BCHA, Julian House and St Petrock’s to offer a safe place to sleep for those with no other options available. A number of spaces to accommodate rough sleepers will be available from mid-December through to 28 February, including specific provision for women.

Safe Sleep is a proactive approach, building on a requirement by government under Severe Weather Provision, where additional spaces are only offered whenever the temperature drops below zero for three or more nights. With the possibility of snow and freezing weather there are serious concerns for rough sleepers as there is a real risk to their health.

Once again, the winter gives providers the opportunity to work together in a more co-ordinated way with this hard-to-reach group. Julian House (Street Outreach Contract) are central to the success of the scheme and are undertaking to work with other providers to help ensure easy flow into the accommodation and support to manage those moving through into longer-term options.

Safe Sleep places will be in addition to services already provided at BCHA’s Gabriel House hostel and the St Petrock’s Resource Centre in the city, with support of the Assertive Homeless Outreach Team from Julian House. The Safe-Sleep project will provide bed spaces alongside use of the City Council’s temporary accommodation stock, where appropriate.

The project includes support alongside a place to sleep with the intention of being able to offer as many ongoing accommodation placements as possible by the end of February.

LGIU | Housing and Homelessness – Where are we now?

LGIU Policy Briefing

November 24, 2016

Housing and Homelessness – Where are we now?

Author: Sheila Camp, LGiU associate


This briefing looks at the changes heralded for housing policy by the post-Cameron Conservative government. Is it, as Inside Housing proclaimed in the wake of the Tory party conference, “a new dawn” or merely a slight shift in government rhetoric? At present, details are scarce but a Housing White Paper is promised before 2017.

We also look at the broad conclusions of the Communities and Local Government Committee’s inquiry into homelessness (PDF document) and ask whether the potential policy changes will start to address the main contributory factors to the rise in homelessness which the Committee identified. It also looks at the proposals in the Homelessness Reduction Bill, a Private Members Bill introduced by one of the Committee members, Bob Blackman, and now backed by government.

This briefing will be of particular interest to members and officers with responsibility for housing, housing advice and support for vulnerable residents and of general interest to other elected members and officers.

Note This briefing was written just before the Autumn Statement – we will be publishing a detailed briefing shortly on the Autumn Statement which will include the housing measures in it.

Briefing in full

Following the referendum result and with few “big beasts” from the previous administration remaining in government, the stage was set for policy changes, most notably the abandonment of the previous Chancellor’s austerity programme, designed to produce a budget surplus by 2020.

Housing policy under the Cameron government was based largely on the belief that the current housing shortage could be resolved by prioritising home ownership and doing little to assist households who could not afford it – other than further welfare benefit restrictions. Social landlords, their development plans already constrained by the one per cent rent cut over the next four years, found that central government investment was to be restricted to home ownership schemes, with “starter homes” now dubbed affordable housing.

The Housing and Planning Act 2015 underpinned this policy drive, with right to buy extended to housing association tenants, a mandatory requirement for starter homes to be included in new build schemes, and various measures – for example “pay to stay” and fixed term tenancies – designed to make renting from councils less attractive, though Pay to stay has now been dropped by the government.

Against a background of housing shortage, rising private sector rents and increasing homelessness, the Communities and Local Government Select Committee begun an enquiry into homelessness in December 2015. Their report was published on 18 August 2016, shortly after the May government took office, and identified many of the underlying aspects of the housing crisis which were contributing to the rise in homelessness.

At the beginning of October, the Prime Minister in her Conference speech set out the broad issues on which her government’s housing policy would be based, signalling somewhat of a break with the previous emphasis on home ownership and prompting Inside Housing’s enthusiastic headline “a new dawn”. Whether that turns out to be the case is yet to be determined.

Potential Policy changes

In keeping with her pledge to govern for the whole country when she took over as Prime Minister, Theresa May’s main message in her conference speech was that housing policy should work for all. In perhaps a tacit admission that her predecessor’s policies to boost home ownership above all else, would not solve the housing crisis, she said “we simply need to build more homes”. So, what are the major policy changes heralded by May and fleshed out a little by the incoming ministerial team of Secretary of State Sajid Javid and Housing Minister Gavin Barwell?

Housing supply

With the Prime Minister indicating a more interventionist approach to housing supply than simply promoting home ownership initiatives, the government announced a new Home Building Fund of £3 billion (made up of unallocated funds from existing programmes) to be used both for infrastructure and to assist small builders; and a £2 billion Accelerated Construction programme to underwrite housing development – in the event of the market proving difficult, builders know properties can be purchased by the Homes and Communities Agency.

Increasing supply will focus on 100 local authority areas where demand greatly exceeds local supply; these areas have not yet been identified publicly, but may in fact be concentrated in the south east to the detriment of other parts of the country.

More flexibility over tenure

In keeping with Theresa May’s assertion that “we simply need to build more homes”, the new Housing Minister indicated that the Shared Ownership and Affordable Homes programme may be expanded to enable schemes for sub- market rental dwellings to be funded.

Redefining Starter Homes

At present, Starter Homes are defined in the Housing and Planning Act 2015 as properties for first-time buyers under 40 with a discount of at least 20 per cent. The new Housing Minister indicated that he would consider widening the definition to include other types of Starter Homes. No details are yet available.

Brownfield land

Details are also awaited on a promised package of measures to encourage urban regeneration and building on brownfield land.

Housing White Paper (November/December)

The Housing Minister has indicated that the Housing White Paper, promised before the end of 2016, will provide a “detailed strategy” on increasing the supply of new homes. Hopefully, it will also flesh out the other changes the government has heralded, including any necessary legislative changes, for example any redefinition of Starter Homes. It will provide an opportunity for everyone with an interest in solving the country’s housing crisis to assess whether the new regime is really on track to increase supply to the degree necessary

Homelessness inquiry CLG committee

The Committee’s main conclusions and recommendations to stem the rise in homelessness are set out below.

Factors contributing to the increase in homelessness

There is no one single cause of homelessness, although there are trends in factors which contribute to the loss of a home.

The private rented sector (PRS)

The ending of a fixed term Assured Shorthold Tenancy is an increasing reason for a household becoming homeless, up to 30% in 2015 from 13% 10 years’ earlier (DCLG figures). Rising rents mean households are often unable to find affordable alternative accommodation, given the level of Local Housing Allowance – the housing benefit payment based on the 30th percentile of market rents in the area, which frequently does not cover the actual asking rent.

In addition, there is evidence that landlords are less willing to let to people on housing benefit and even more wary about letting to homeless households.

The Committee concluded that the government should look at ways of giving greater confidence to both landlords and tenants to let to homeless people, including reviewing LHA levels and promoting longer ASTs.

Availability of social housing

The Committee concluded that problems in the PRS were exacerbated by the shortage of social housing, which, despite the demonstrable demand, is no longer funded by government. Whilst accepting there is a demand for the home ownership initiatives, particularly starter homes, not everyone can afford them. The current government definition of “affordable housing” should be reviewed so that it includes social rented housing.

Changes to the welfare system

The Committee identified several changes which have contributed – or have the potential to contribute – the increase in homelessness. These are

  • the freezing of working age benefits for 4 years
  • the reduction in the household benefit cap from £26,000 to £20,000 (£23,000 in London)
  • excluding 18-21 year olds from claiming housing support (from April 2017)
  • extension of the Shared Accommodation rate of housing benefit to single people under 35
  • the payment of housing benefit direct to the tenant

The Committee concluded that, taken as a whole, the welfare reforms of recent years have increased pressure on levels of homelessness.

The role of local authorities

Gatekeeping and support

Local authorities have a duty to secure accommodation for homeless households in priority need. For other homeless people, they only have a duty to provide advice and support which, the Committee found, varied considerably throughout the country.

Whilst recognising the pressures on local authorities, the Committee concluded that the Government should monitor local authorities in order to promote best practice, to identify authorities which are not meeting their statutory duties and implement a code of practice to which local authorities should adhere. The Homelessness Reduction Bill, which now has government support, should go some way to ensuring a more uniform level of advice and support throughout the country.

Councils placing households outside of their administrative boundaries

Whilst recognising the reasons for some councils placing households away from their home authority, the Committee considered this should only be done as a last resort; the families should be supported in their new areas; and the receiving authority should be fully informed

The need for accurate statistics on Homelessness

Accurate statistics on homelessness are vital if the issue is to be addressed.

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) publishes three sets of data on homelessness – statutory homelessness; prevention and relief; and rough sleeping. Statutory homelessness includes those households who are unintentionally homeless and in priority need. Prevention includes action by the local authority to prevent households becoming homeless; relief is where the household, on becoming homeless, has been helped to secure accommodation by the local council. The rough sleeping statistics are based on a snapshot of of the numbers sleeping rough on a particular night, ascertained either by a headcount or, more usually, an estimate by the local council.

The UK Statistics Authority assessed the DCLG data last December and concluded that only the statistics on statutory homelessness could be considered as national statistics; the two others were potentially misleading.

The Committee considered urgent action was needed to improve DCLG’s data collection so it more accurately reflected the actual scale of homelessness, including “hidden” homeless households. They resolved to monitor progress and review in 12 months.

Other issues identified by the Committee

The service user’s perspective

The Committee took considerable evidence on the perspective of the recipients of the homelessness service. They found that the main issues were:

  • Being treated with respect and compassion

At a time when they are extremely vulnerable, homeless households should be treated sensitively and not made to feel they are part of the problem.

  • Choice and autonomy

Households reported that they felt when using the homelessness service  that they had lost all measure of choice and autonomy

  • Quality of service

The Committee considered that the Government should review and reinforce the statutory Code of Practice to ensure it outlines clearly the levels of service that local authorities must provide and encourages regular training of staff to     ensure a sympathetic and sensitive service. Services should put users first with a compassionate approach that gives individuals an element of choice and autonomy.

Vulnerable groups and multiple complex needs

The Committee concluded that the homelessness services often dealt poorly with many vulnerable groups, particularly those who had more than one vulnerability. Such people frequently found their needs dealt with in isolation, even to the extent of being given conflicting appointment time. There was often a tendency for each group of professionals to deal with their specific area of expertise, rather than deal with whole person.

The Committee recommended focus on the individual and more cross-speciality working to ensure all vulnerabilities were addressed

Cross-Government working

A similar problem was identified in central government, where a lack of communication between departments or conflicting policies could work against the individual. A common approach to homelessness was needed.

Homelessness legislation

The Committee compared the approach to homelessness in England, where households not in priority need receive very little assistance in practice with the more recent legislation in Scotland and Wales.

The legislative approach in Scotland and Wales

In Scotland, priority need was abolished as from 31 December 2012, leaving Scottish local authorities with a duty to secure accommodation for all homeless households. As the legislation was passed in2003, councils had a 10 year lead in time to prepare.

In Wales, the 2014 Act placed a duty on local authorities to prevent households threatened with homelessness within 56 days (up from 28 days) from actually becoming homeless. For those households who are homeless when they seek assistance, councils must help secure accommodation for 56 days, but only have a continuing responsibility for households in priority need.

The Committee considered the Scottish approach was not appropriate for England because of the different housing markets. Having found support provided to homeless households not in priority need was at best variable in England, they welcomed the Welsh emphasis on prevention and linked this to their support for the Homelessness Reduction Bill.

The Homelessness Reduction Bill

The Homelessness Reduction Bill, now proceeding as a Private Member’s Bill but with government support, is designed to ensure that all households who are either homeless or threatened with homelessness within 56 days receive genuine help and advice from their local council. This is regardless of whether they are in priority need. Originally, the Bill would have given councils a duty to secure accommodation for 56 days, (the Welsh approach) but this was withdrawn as impractical in the England context. The current wording will impose a duty on councils to assist all homeless and potentially homeless households; the government has indicated it will provide additional to councils to cover their costs.


Policy changes

The under-supply of new homes has been identified for some years as being the root cause of the country’s continuing housing crisis. It fuels increases in housing costs – both rents and purchase price – which, in turn, leads to housing becoming increasingly unaffordable, contributing to overcrowding and, in the worst case scenario, homelessness. Ever higher rents place a huge burden on the country’s social security budget, which government seeks to address by cuts to benefits, rather than measures to control rents.

The recognition by the May government that the necessary increases in supply will not happen by the market responding to measures to increase home ownership alone is welcome and the emphasis on a cross tenure approach to the supply issue must be the way ahead. The target of one million new homes by 2020 is commendable – but we have had targets before. Delivery is key and a thorough assessment of the government’s plans must wait for the “detailed strategy” promised in the forthcoming White Paper.

Nothing so far is proposed to stem the potential loss of existing social housing stock through extending RTB to housing association tenants, to be funded by the sale of “higher value” council homes. Nor does there seem to be any indication of reviewing benefit cuts, which exacerbate affordability issues.


Affordability and housing shortages runs through the Select Committee’s recommendations on homelessness. A major increase in supply will, in the medium to long term, help greatly with stemming the rise in homelessness and promoting that increase across all tenures is also vital.

However, given the lack of any intention to review benefit changes, which are impacting on low income households being able to afford their homes, it does not seem that there are any short term answers to increasing homelessness. The new duty for councils to take steps to prevent people becoming homeless will only have meaning if there is somewhere available that they can afford; in many high pressured areas, this is not the case.

Related briefings: 
Housing and Planning Act 2016

Neighbourhood Planning update: Autumn 2016

Inside Housing | The community taking on homelessness


15 November 2016 7:30 am

The community taking on homelessness

Housing minister Gavin Barwell’s Croydon constituency has a homelessness crisis. Now members of the community are taking matters into their own hands to find a solution. Martin Hilditch reports

For use in Inside Housing, 18 November 2016

CATHY AT 50 200px

It is the wrong side of midnight and the A&E department at Croydon University Hospital is a picture of well-lit gloom.

A handful of patients sit on plastic chairs, silently contemplating the dramas that have brought them here in the depths of the night. Their peace is broken by the entry of a small group of men and women, all wearing identical blue cagoules that proclaim their arrival from the European End Street Homelessness Campaign in big letters on the back. It has been a disappointing night for the volunteers so far. They have been charged with engaging with homeless people on the streets of Croydon as part of a massive project that is the first step of a campaign to end rough sleeping in the London borough.

Thus far, they have traipsed around parks, alleyways and lock-ups, shining torches into dark corners like Croydon’s answer to the Scooby-Doo gang. Despite visiting many of the borough’s well-known rough sleeping ‘hotspots’, after a couple of hours they have little to show for their efforts beyond tired legs. They have popped into the A&E department for a comfort break, but it is about to provide them with a depressing insight into the realities of life on the streets.

Major campaign

Moments after walking through the doors, the group are approached by a young man with an amputated foot, who has come to A&E for treatment.

“I’m homeless,” he says. He is accompanied by a friend, who is also homeless, and has made his own trip to the hospital in recent weeks. “I had pneumonia,” he says. “I had three blood transfusions.”

I was genuinely shocked by some of the data – really, really shocked. It should be a wakeup call to the citizens of Croydon.”

Lee Buss, director of operations, Evolve Housing + Support

They strike up a conversation with Deborah Ives, head of operations at homelessness charity Evolve Housing + Support, who is leading the team tonight. Elsewhere, a young woman who says she was homeless up until a couple of weeks ago approaches and has a chat with one of the volunteers, Mary Blamires. She is concerned society tends to think all homeless people are alcoholics. “She said: ‘I just wanted to let you know we are not’,” Ms Blamires reports afterwards.

It is all a powerful reminder that when housing professionals talk about the strain and cost that housing problems place on other services, or when homelessness professionals discuss tri-morbidity (the combination of mental and physical ill health and drug or alcohol misuse), this is the back story. To put it another way, if you are looking to find rough sleepers, an A&

For use in Inside Housing, 18 November 2016
A&E department in the middle of the night is a very good place to start.

The group is part of a bigger picture, however. Tonight, Croydon’s streets are covered with a patchwork quilt of volunteers. Their work is the start of the CR Zero 2020 campaign, which is led by Evolve, Crisis, Expert Link, Homeless Link and Thames Reach, to end rough sleeping in the borough. This sprang out of a wider European End Street Homelessness Campaign, which is being developed by the Building and Social Housing Foundation (BSHF) and FEANTSA, the European network of organisations working with homeless people.

The Croydon project’s ambition is clear. But what learning has it picked up already? And can it really succeed in eradicating rough sleeping?

Fast forward a few days, and some of the answers start to emerge. Over the course of the week, groups of volunteers speak to street homeless people in Croydon and get them to complete in-depth questionnaires. The aim is to build up the most detailed picture ever of the men and women living on the borough’s streets, which contain the eighth-highest number of people sleeping rough in the UK.

People sleeping rough on our streets is probably the most visible indicator of the profound housing problems we have got in this country that it is my job to try to tackle.

Gavin Barwell, MP for Croydon and housing minister

On a Saturday morning, just days after the last group of volunteers reports back, the information contained on the questionnaires has been analysed and the initial findings are to be presented to members of the Croydon community, including constituency MP and housing minister, Gavin Barwell.

The volunteers engaged with 64 homeless people over the course of the week (more than the 53 people recorded in the last street count); 42 of them completed a survey. Straight away, it is obvious the A&E department the volunteers visited earlier in the week has been a familiar destination for many of Croydon’s rough sleepers. In fact, half of the rough sleepers who completed a questionnaire had been in an A&E department in the past six months.

Collectively, there had been 53 attendances to A&E departments in that time, with 19 separate occasions in which people had been taken in by ambulance. There were a further 23 cases in which people had been in hospital as an in-patient.

For use in Inside Housing, 18 November 2016
Filling in a questionnaire

Grim events

The rest of the statistics make pretty grim reading, too. More than half of the respondents said they had been attacked or beaten up while on the streets. Weeks after this meeting, the Croydon Advertiser reported the story of a homeless man who has disappeared after a gang of “laughing thugs” attacked him in a doorway and set his belongings on fire.

And there are hundreds of other statistics, each with their own depressing back stories. Two of the six women who filled out forms were pregnant, 60% of the respondents had not been in permanent or sustainable housing for six months or more and 70% said there were no activities in their life that made them feel happy and fulfilled other than just surviving. Lee Buss, director of operations at Evolve Housing + Support, admits: “I was genuinely shocked by some of the data – really, really shocked. It should be a wakeup call to the citizens of Croydon.”

What of Mr Barwell, who says he has hotfooted it to the morning’s event “from my surgery, dealing with a number of housing issues”?

We are asking the entire community to work together to find a solution to chronic rough sleeping on the streets of Croydon.

Lee Buss, director of operations, Evolve Housing + Support

Croydon’s MP is certainly not shying away from the problem. “People sleeping rough on our streets is probably the most visible indicator of the profound housing problems we have got in this country that it is my job to try to tackle,” he tells the audience. He later adds: “I look forward to hearing what I can do, what the council can do and what the community can do to solve this great moral stain on our times.” He promises to resource any potential new responsibilities placed on councils as a result of the forthcoming Homelessness Reduction Bill.

The members of the Croydon community in attendance are not here to demand solutions from the housing minister, however. Instead, the aim is for local people, charities and businesses to take matters into their own hands.

For use in Inside Housing, 18 November 2016

Collective effort

“We are asking the entire community to work together to find a solution to chronic rough sleeping on the streets of Croydon,” Mr Buss explains. “Now we have the information, we need to do something with it. Croydon has the answers. I don’t mean Croydon the local authority – although they play a vital role. I mean us, everyone in this room.”

The next step is to form a “community solutions” focus group, whereby local people and organisations will work together to develop answers. This could involve asking existing services to work differently or developing new services or methods.

Only a few weeks later, Inside Housing drops in on the initial meeting of the group in a community centre. Members of local homelessness charities and drop-in centres have turned up, alongside local residents and council staff. Mark McPherson, director of strategy, partnership and innovation at Homeless Link and who is chairing, states that the purpose of the group is to “understand why people live on the streets”, “identify the things that stop them getting off the streets” and “find solutions”.

It might be that we don’t get some of those people in the room… But we can come up with an ask for them.”

Mark McPherson, director of strategy, partnership and innovation, Homeless Link

The group begins by working in teams to identify points of contact and sources of help for homeless people in the borough. A chart of faith groups, night shelters and drop-in centres emerges. Over the next few weeks the information will be pulled together into a “systems map”. The next step will be to pinpoint barriers in the system and “who do we have to influence to remove them”.

“It might be that we don’t get some of those people in the room,” Mr McPherson says. “But we can come up with an ask for them.” He reminds the attendees that all solutions have to be “about housing” – “the solutions must mean they are no longer living on the streets”.

It is early days yet, but the mood in the room is optimistic. Rough sleeping might be on the rise nationally, but the group here today are determined they can reverse the trend and, indeed, eradicate it in Croydon by 2020. So far they have attracted more than 100 volunteers, had the ear of the housing minister and collected more detail about the borough’s homeless population than anyone before. They are likely to have plenty of learning to pass on to the housing sector – and do not bet against them achieving the seemingly impossible while they are at it.

Campaign origins

The work in Croydon to end homelessness can trace its roots back to the 100,000 Homes campaign in the USA.

This was a national grassroots movement working to find and permanently house 100,000 of the most vulnerable homeless people in the nation – with communities taking the lead. It won a World Habitat Award, organised by the Building and Social Housing Foundation (BSHF), in 2013.

David Ireland, director of the BSHF, says after the award win “there was a real interest in seeing if we could use some of the methods and adapt them into Europe”. This led to the birth of the European End Street Homelessness Campaign, co-ordinated by BSHF. Identical questionnaires have been filled out by homeless people in various cities, such as Barcelona and Valencia, and Croydon is the latest area to launch its own campaign.

Inside Housing | How Finland fixed homelessness



14 November 2016

How Finland fixed homelessness

Housing First turned Finland from a country with a severe homelessness problem into one with almost no rough sleepers. Gavriel Hollander finds out how

For use in Inside Housing, 18 November 2016

CATHY AT 50 200px

Matias Toivonen has little doubt what would have happened to him if he had not been given help to live in his own home two-and-a-half years ago. “I thought I’d be dead by now.”

The 64-year-old Helsinki resident’s life has undergone the kind of changes made possible by Finland’s revolutionary approach to what was once a major homelessness problem.

Targeting the vulnerable

Housing First, a system first adopted in pockets of the United States in the 1980s (see box: Housing First), is based on a belief that vulnerable homeless people should initially be given a place to live and only then provided with the support services that are more commonly thought of as the first step to rehabilitation.

Mr Toivonen’s story is not an altogether unusual one. Having left his parents’ home in rural Vihti, around 30 miles to the north-west of Helsinki, (“I don’t like the countryside,” he tells me) to return to the capital in the 1990s, he spent his time between hostels, temporary accommodation and in an all-night café run by the No Fixed Abode charity. He had health problems, drank heavily and was occasionally aggressive.

Eventually, he went lame and his leg was close to being amputated.

For use in Inside Housing, 18 November 2016
Matias Toivonen

Between 2007 and 2013 he lived in a supported housing unit with around 50 other people before the Y-Foundation, a provider of rental accommodation that specialises in housing the homeless, helped him find his own flat. Joona Pöhö, a housing advisor with the Y-Foundation, explains that the organisation chose to take a chance on Mr Toivonen when it offered him a flat. “We knew he needed lots of support but we decided it was worth trying because he himself wanted to go,” he says.

This type of decision is at the heart of Housing First: the decision to target the most vulnerable and potentially most needy homeless people, and to set them up with a home at the start of the process of assimilating them back into society. It certainly appears to have had a dramatic impact, with rough sleeping all but eradicated from a high of 4,700 in the 1980s. This is partly why our Cathy at 50 campaign is calling for the UK to look at adopting Housing First here

I’m in Finland to discover how and why the policy works, what difference it has made and how it could be replicated in the UK.

The story of Housing First in Finland dates back to the 1980s, when the Y-Foundation was founded. It was then that the country’s government decided to tackle a homelessness problem that had been growing exponentially throughout the post-War years. In 1987, there were 18,000 homeless people in Finland, out of a population still below five million.

That number was reduced to around 12,000 by the early 1990s but those being helped were not the most needy: the long-term homeless.

“Policy used to be much more short-sighted,” recalls Juha Kaakinen, chief executive of Y-Foundation.

“Before, when we were talking about homelessness it wasn’t about building more affordable social housing or targeted measures for homeless people; it was very much the thinking that these people needed support first and then they could [get everything else].”

In 2008, the government launched the national programme for the reduction of long-term homelessness, known as Paavo. The initiative was led by the so-called ‘Four Wise Men’ (see box: The Paavo scheme), with Mr Kaakinen acting as programme co-ordinator.

For use in Inside Housing, 18 November 2016
Juha Kaakinen

Paavo’s aims and methods were radical. The programme specifically targeted the long-term homelessness problem, with an aim to halve numbers by 2011 and end it entirely by 2015, doing so by, among other things, converting homeless shelters in Finland’s biggest cities into rental housing. The government also set targets for the number of new flats to be built to aid the programme in each of the 10 cities in which the policy was implemented.

While the most difficult cases, such as people with severe mental health problems, tend to be placed in supported housing units, albeit ones where they are rent-paying tenants, the principle is aimed at housing those who are able to get by with less support in ‘scattered’ housing, pepper-potted around communities.

Inevitably that can cause friction for existing residents, but there seems to be a willingness here to put society before the individual.

“Most Finns obey the law,” one young Y-Foundation employee tells me when I comment how – in contrast to London – everyone in Helsinki seems to wait for a green light to cross the road. Kimmo Tiilikainen, the minister for environment and housing, accepts that there are “practical problems” with the Housing First approach, but thinks the battle for hearts and minds has been more or less won.

“If neighbours can see that these people can manage their lives and make improvements, and they can see it really helps, then it’s acceptable to people,” he says. “We have a political consensus that homelessness is not right.”

That consensus was hard won, however. Jan Vapaavuori, Mr Tiilikainen’s predecessor, who implemented Paavo in the first place, admits to using some “political pressure” on at least two of the municipalities involved. But for the former minister, other factors were more important when it came to being allowed to develop innovative solutions to a long-standing problem.

“There is a strong consensus [behind the programme],” he argues. “The political argument is a combination. It’s not only good social policy; it has a big safety and security angle, as the more homeless people there are on the streets, the more unsafe the city is. And there’s an economic argument, too: taking care of these people is a good investment.”

Local attitude

Mr Kaakinen estimates that each homeless person that is taken off the streets saves social and other services around €15,000 (£13,000) a year. Yet none of this could be done without funding and investment.

“All the flats we build for this programme are subsidised,” says Mr Vapaavuori, candidly adding: “I don’t think we could do it in a more market-driven system.”

So where does the money come from? A crucial part of the financial jigsaw is funding from Finland’s Slot Machine Association, which has supplied €50m to help purchase scattered housing developments. Furthermore, all affordable social housing in Finland is backed partly by government grant and partly by loans, capped at 1.7%, issued by the state-owned but independent Housing Finance and Development Fund. The fund is responsible for €6.5bn of loans.

“Without this [funding] system, we would not have succeeded in the homelessness programme,” states Peter Fredriksson, a senior advisor at the Ministry of the Environment and one of the key architects behind Paavo. “The revolution of the services wouldn’t have been possible without this money. It channels state money to municipalities; they did not need to put their own money in at all.”

In a way, this is the crux of why a Housing First-based system was both given the go ahead in the first place and has since proved a success. It is operating within a wider housing system that is designed to maintain mixed communities, and in which subsidies are still seen as playing a crucial role. In Helsinki, the situation is helped by the fact that the city owns more than 70% of the land. Jätkäsaari is a major development on a wind-swept peninsula of reclaimed land jutting out into the Baltic Sea from the south-west of the city. There, around 9,000 homes are being built in numerous phases, the last due to complete in 2025.

Although there are unlikely to be any ‘scattered’ housing units for the homeless here, the tenure mix speaks loudly to the local attitude to development. There is a roughly even split of market sale, private rent and social homes.

“Wherever we build we are trying to make a good social mix,” says Matti Kaijansinkko from the City Planning Department. “As long as the city is the landowner, that is working quite well.”

For use in Inside Housing, 18 November 2016
Matti Kaijansinkko from the Helsinki City Planning Department shows Inside Housing the 9,000-home new development on Jätkäsaari

Although funding for development comes from central government, aided by the Slot Machine windfall, councils are called on to fund some of the services that are necessary to make Housing First work for the more vulnerable long-term homeless.

On the site of Finland’s first psychiatric hospital, in Lapinlahti in the west of Helsinki, the Alvi Association operates a supported housing unit for 23 residents with severe mental health problems. A team of 11 work around the clock on the site, costing the city €140 per resident per day. Yet here too, the Housing First principle of autonomy and self-reliance rules.

Residents plan their activities, including a shopping and cooking rota. They all pay rent for their apartments and have normal rental contracts that they must honour.

“These are their homes,” explains Juha Järvinen, director of the association. “We are working in their homes, they are not living in our workplace. When you leave space for [them] to decide what kind of life they want and how to get it, they are taking control. Our role is just to make them understand the possibilities.”

Housing First has brought Finland’s homeless population down to less than 7,000. The majority of those still homeless – around 80% according to Mr Kaakinen – are staying with friends or relatives.

“It’s a stunning result,” says Matt Downie, director of policy and external affairs at Crisis. “They used to have a bigger homelessness problem than we have.” Could the UK follow their lead? Mr Downie is sceptical. “We’ve got a system that is the exact opposite of Housing First. In Finland they made a strategic choice [to do this]; that allowed them to change everything.”

The stark numbers are impressive, but it’s in the individual stories that the success of Finland’s model can be seen. Matias Toivonen never dreamt he would have his own apartment, let alone be planning trips abroad, as he is now. His years on the street have left their mark, in hooded eyes and missing teeth. But he laughs as he speaks. “I did not imagine my life would be this good,” he says.

Housing First

Housing First was developed as a new way to approach homelessness in Los Angeles in the late 1980s. Schemes have followed in cities including New York, Chicago, Denver and San Francisco. In 2010 it was adopted as ‘best practice’ by the US Interagency Council on Homelessness. Although the approaches across the different schemes vary, they retain some key features, including the concept of offering permanent housing as quickly as possible to anyone finding themselves homeless. The schemes are based on the principle that housing is a basic human right.

Housing First has also been adopted in parts of Australia, Canada, France and Japan. Although there have been small-scale trials in the UK, it has yet to gain traction. A 2008 report from Shelter cited a lack of supply as a key reason for this.

The Paavo scheme

The Paavo scheme in Finland was developed by the so-called ‘Four Wise Men’: Paavo Voutilainen, director of social welfare for the city of Helsinki; Hannu Puttonen, the former chief executive of the Y-Foundation; Dr Ilkka Taipale, one of the Y-Foundation founders and a former politician; and Eero Huovinen, bishop of Helsinki.

The Y-Foundation’s current chief executive, Juha Kaakinen, was the programme coordinator.

Inside Housing | Helping the homeless



14 November 2016

Helping the homeless


A few hours after deciding to write about homelessness in this blog, my friend, Trevor Smith, said this to me: “Homelessness is centre stage in the induction programme I am designing. If new entrants to the housing sector don’t ‘get’ homelessness, they won’t understand what we’re about.”

Trevor runs the support programme for the Centre for Partnership’s GEM (Graduate Employment and Mentoring) Programme. His comment started me thinking about the extent to which homelessness – and finding solutions for it – remains at the heart of what we do or whether, at times, we forget about it in the rush to keep step with the government’s latest housing initiative (I understand that it’s ‘buy as you go’ this week).

I touch base regularly with Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis. Two years ago we were discussing how homelessness was increasing, and that measures such as the overall benefits cap would only make it worse. He said he thought that the pendulum would swing back by 2017. The fantastic work that he and the Crisis team have done to promote the Homelessness Reduction Bill is a strong indicator that he got it right. Two or three years ago the government was so busy weakening the safety net for homeless people it would have been inconceivable that such a measure could have succeeded. Now the bill, which was taken forward by Conservative MP Bob Blackman, has the support of the Communities and Local Government, local authorities and, we hope, parliament. That is an astonishing result.

We also have a housing minister who is bothered about homelessness. He says he is, and I choose to believe him. Recently he stated that “solving our housing crisis is a moral priority”. Homelessness is back on the radar.

There is the fantastic work that David Bogle and the Homes for Cathy group are doing which will be showcased in parliament in February, and which has spawned a myriad of national and regional events. South Yorkshire Housing Association (SYHA) showed the original Cathy Come Home at our local independent cinema last week, and it was followed by a panel debate which included the housing lead on the local council, a homelessness agency and a young woman who had experienced homelessness. Next week we are reprising this as part of a programme for local schools. Then, in a couple of months, the brilliant Cardboard Citizens theatre company (which includes homeless actors) is coming to the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, with an updated version of Cathy. The Homes for Cathy group of associations are also sponsoring Inside Housing’s competition for young filmmakers to produce a ‘Cathy’ for the 21st century.

So what else are associations doing? There are the obvious answers such as increasing housing supply (40% of all new homes last year, for example), working hard to sustain existing tenancies and working closely with local authorities to support their homeless strategies. The two performance indicators I look for first at SYHA are the number of tenants we have evicted and the proportion of new tenants who have been homeless or at risk.

There is another dimension to this – the way in which we work with our tenants as individuals. Every time we intervene to support one of our customers into a training or employment programme, we take them one step further away from homelessness. Every intervention to support someone’s health, well-being and self-esteem does the same. Placeshapers associations do loads of this stuff.  Its We Work programme is a great showcase for the tens of thousands of people who have been supported in this way. Immediate examples at SYHA include our arts programme, Moments of Joy, and our Ageing Better project which tackles loneliness and isolation.

I have tried – and failed – to track the origin of the much-quoted statement that any one of us is only two bad decisions away from homelessness. If we are better connected, better informed and better supported, we will be less likely to make these mistakes.

At the end of every meeting our board assesses the decisions we have just taken against our risk framework. We think about how each decision has affected our risk profile, risk appetite etc. A lot of associations do this. Perhaps we should also be thinking about the impact of our decisions on homelessness in the same way. To what extent are the decisions we take on, for example, new developments, tenure, or sales strategies likely to improve or damage prospects for homelessness locally? Like those GEM graduates, we need to ensure we still ‘get’ it.

Tony Stacey, chief executive, South Yorkshire Housing Association

Inside Housing launches homelessness campaign


14 November 2016 

Inside Housing launches homelessness campaign


Inside Housing has launched a campaign to tackle rough sleeping to mark this week’s 50th anniversary of the landmark film Cathy Come Home.

The Cathy at 50 campaign will raise awareness and promote innovative practice to help end rough sleeping. We will also be launching a competition – Reel Homes – to produce a film about homelessness or the housing crisis and deliver a Cathy Come Home for the 21st century.

As part of the campaign, Inside Housing will be running in-depth investigations and analysis every day this week, examining the current homelessness landscape and providing ideas for the government and the housing sector about how to reduce the currently soaring levels of rough sleeping.

Cathy at 50 will call for some practical action too. It asks councils, housing providers and the government to look at adopting a Housing First approach to tackle rough sleeping.

The model, which involves providing permanent housing backed up by tailored support, appears to have been successful in tackling rough sleeping in other countries and the campaign argues it should be rolled out more widely in the UK. To kick things off, today our research looks at the impact Housing First has had in Finland and Canada.

The campaign is also calling on the Government to commit to ending rough sleeping, and halve it by 2020 as a staging post.

Cathy at 50 campaign aims:

  • To launch a film competition to produce a finished work about homelessness or the impact of the housing crisis.
  • A week of detailed research and stories from the frontline to mark the 50th anniversary of Cathy Come Home and promote a wider debate about the current homelessness crisis.
  • Calls for councils to explore Housing First as a default option for long-term rough sleepers and commission Housing First schemes. Calls for housing associations to identify additional stock for Housing First schemes and for government to support five Housing First projects, collect evidence and distribute best practice.
  • Calls for the government to commit to ending rough sleeping, and to halve rough sleeping by 2020 as the first step to achieving this.

Senior sector figures have already lent their support to the campaign.

Terrie Alafat, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH), said: “The 50th anniversary of Cathy Come Home is a chance to reflect on an issue which has worsened steadily since 2010.”

Ms Alafat added that the current Homelessness Reduction Bill represents a historic opportunity to tackle the issue, but as well as the new law the Government “needs to commit to a strategy on homelessness which tackles the root causes and gives more support to local authorities”.

She added that the CIH supports Housing First “as part of a wider effort to tackle homelessness”.

Jeremy Swain, chief executive of homelessness charity Thames Reach, said that it has “long advocated the mainstreaming of the Housing First model in the UK to assist long-term rough sleepers with multiple needs and we are pleased to be able to give our strong backing to the Inside Housing campaign that seeks to achieve this.”

He added: “There are many approaches to helping homeless people which sound fine but cannot demonstrate that they successfully help people to escape homelessness. In contrast, the Housing First model has been scrutinised and evaluated very carefully and has a proven track record in helping people come off the street, stay housed and get their lives back. In short: Housing First works and we need more of it.”